Crime, justice and social capital in the Torres Strait region

Photo of judges gavel

While there has been much research into Indigenous crime and justice, previous research draws largely on Aboriginal peoples, who are culturally distinct from Torres Strait Islanders.

The Torres Strait region offers a unique opportunity to observe how justice is practised in remote contexts. Through statistical analysis and qualitative fieldwork, this study documents crime rates, community and customary justice practices and impediments to justice, to identify best practices unique to the Torres Strait region.

Crime-report data indicate relatively low rates of crime in the Torres Strait region. While under-reporting and under-policing can partly explain these differences, strong levels of social capital, as well as unique justice practices, also play important roles in preventing crime in the region.


URLs correct as at February 2024

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2016. Census of population and housing, 2016. Canberra: ABS

Bursik RJ Jr & Grasmick HG 1993. Neighborhoods and crime: The dimensions of effective community control. New York: Lexington Books

Carcach C 2000. Regional development and crime. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 160. Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.

Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health (CRCAH), Telethon Institute for Child Health Research & Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA) 2006. Growing up in the Torres Strait region: A report from the Footprints in Time trials. Occasional Paper no. 17. Canberra: Australian Government

Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships (DATSIP) 2019. Regional profile: Torres Strait Islands (LGA). Brisbane: DATSIP

Frankland K 1994. A brief history of government administration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Queensland. Brisbane: Queensland Government

Lawrence D & Lawrence H 2004. Torres Strait: The region and its people. In R David (ed), Woven history, dancing lives. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies: 15–29

Lawrence R 2007. Research on strong Indigenous communities. Indigenous Justice Clearing House Research Brief no. 1. Australian Institute of Criminology and NSW Attorney General’s Department

McCausland R & Vivian A 2010. Why do some Aboriginal communities have lower crime rates than others? A pilot study. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 43(2): 301–32

Memmott P 2010. On regional and cultural approaches to Australian Indigenous violence. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology 43(2): 333–55

Moreton-Robinson A 2015. The white possessive: Property, power and indigenous sovereignty. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press

Queensland Government Statistician’s Office (QGSO) 2016a. Indigenous profile: Queensland regional profile: Custom region compared with Queensland. Brisbane: Queensland Government

Queensland Government Statistician’s Office 2016b. Time series profile—The region over time. Resident profile—People who live in the region: Queensland regional profile: Custom region compared with Queensland. Brisbane: Queensland Government

Sampson R, Raudenbush S & Earls F 1997. Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science 277: 918–924

Scott J & Hogg R 2015. Strange and stranger ruralities: Social constructions of rural crime in Australia. Journal of Rural Studies 39: 171–9

Shnukal A 2015. Aspects of early local administration, education, health and population on Mabuyag. Culture 8(2): 55–125

Singe J 1979. The Torres Strait: People and history. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press

Spradley J 1979. The ethnographic interview. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Staines Z & Scott J 2019. Crime and colonisation in Australia’s Torres Strait Islands. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology.

Synot E 2019. The Uluru Statement showed how to give First Nations people a real voice – now it’s time for action. The Conversation, 5 March.

Tyler W 1998. Race, crime and region: The socio-spatial dynamics of Aboriginal offending. Journal of Sociology 34(2): 152–69