Possessing a strong cultural identity has been shown to protect against mental health symptoms and buffer distress prompted by discrimination. However, no research to date has explored the protective influences of cultural identity and cultural engagement on violent offending. This paper investigates the relationships between cultural identity/engagement and violent recidivism for a cohort of Australian Indigenous people in custody.
A total of 122 adults from 11 prisons in the state of Victoria completed a semi-structured interview comprising cultural identification and cultural engagement material in custody. All official police charges for violent offences were obtained for participants who were released from custody into the community over a period of 2 years.
No meaningful relationship between cultural identity and violent recidivism was identified. However a significant association between cultural engagement and violent recidivism was obtained. Further analyses demonstrated that this relationship was significant only for participants with a strong Indigenous cultural identity. Participants with higher levels of cultural engagement took longer to violently re-offend although this association did not reach significance.
For Australian Indigenous people in custody, ‘cultural engagement’ was significantly associated with non-recidivism. The observed protective impact of cultural engagement is a novel finding in a correctional context. Whereas identity alone did not buffer recidivism directly, it may have had an indirect influence given its relationship with cultural engagement. The findings of the study emphasize the importance of culture for Indigenous people in custody and a greater need for correctional institutions to accommodate Indigenous cultural considerations.