Peer networks and other influences on Aboriginal juvenile offending

Criminology Research Council grant ; (18/96-7)

Levels of self-reported offending amongst urban Aboriginal people were examined in comparison with the levels reported by a non-Indigenous school based sample and a sample of non-Indigenous "chronically marginalised/disadvantaged" adolescents. Use of these three groups provides a means of comparing Indigenous offending/offenders with two discrete control groups. That is, the school based sample which closely approximates the general population and a sample of seriously disadvantaged, but, non-Indigenous, young people. This research design allows, to some extent at least, for the teasing apart of the disadvantage effect from the race/ethnicity effect. The hypothesis being, that the extent to which Indigenous offending differs from both control groups represents the contribution of culturally specific factors.

It was found that, perhaps contrary to the expectations of some, self-reported Indigenous offending was lower than that found in the non-Indigenous disadvantaged sample. And that, to the extent that predictor factors could be identified, they were different for each of the three groups.

Despite strong evidence that Indigenous offending is increased by offending being viewed as an "acceptable" act of "resistance", peer and family solidarity amongst Indigenous adolescents serves to reduce levels of self-reported offending. It appears that what is culturally specific about Aboriginal culture insulates adolescent members of the community from the propensity to offend.

In sum, Indigenous offending is certainly much higher than that found amongst the (non- Indigenous) general population, but, not as high as that found for the equally disadvantaged non-Indigenous group. And further, and in support of the "culture of resistance thesis", Indigenous offending was disproportionately other oriented (that is crimes against the person/property) whereas for the non-Indigenous disadvantaged it was disproportionately self- oriented (that is substance abuse/misuse).

These findings have been taken into account with respect to the second wave of sibling study interviews to be undertaken in mid-1998. This will then allow for a more sophisticated (multivariate) testing of the research findings.

Taken in toto, the research reveals a very positive message about the importance of what is unique/special about Indigenous culture in terms of reducing levels of criminality in adolescence.