Young Indigenous males, custody and the rites of passage


Almost 20 years ago, David Biles (1983) included a reference to the use of imprisonment as a substitute manhood ceremony in his report on Groote Eylandt prisoners. Despite the provocative nature of this suggestion, no detailed study of this claim has been undertaken to date.

This paper examines the concept of incarceration as an alternative “rite of passage” for young Indigenous males. The paper draws upon research currently being conducted in the Northern Territory and while the findings can only be considered as preliminary, they nevertheless suggest that the concept of incarceration as a rite of passage needs to be substantially re-configured. While imprisonment can certainly serve as a testing ground for young Indigenous men, it does not replace traditional rites of passage in remote communities, and needs to be recognised as a phase in criminal trajectories characterised by a lack of access to basic social resources.