Towards a theory of Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system

Barbed wire fence

The Australian Indigenous imprisonment rate is currently 16.7 times the non-Indigenous imprisonment rate. The leading proximate cause of this over-representation is a high rate of Indigenous arrest. In this report we develop and test a model of Indigenous arrest in which the primary drivers of risk are substance use, stress and trauma, adverse social environment, exposure to arrest, human/economic/social capital, and state/territory of residence. We test the model using data from the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey. The strongest risk factors are alcohol and other drug use and having a high or very high level of psychological distress. The strongest protective factors are completing school, having an income in the top four deciles, and having a permanent home.


  • Acknowledgements
    • Conflicts of interest
  • Abstract
  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
    • Past research into the correlates of Indigenous arrest
  • Outline of a theory of arrest
    • Earlier theories
    • Exposure to arrest
  • The current study
    • Data source
    • Dependent variable
    • Covariates
    • Analysis
  • Results
    • Sample description
    • Arrest model
    • Imprisonment model
    • LASSO regression results
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Appendix: LASSO analysis results