The criminalisation of
This chapter analyses the extent to which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come into contact with the police, the courts and the prison system—in other words, the extent to which Indigenous people are subjected to the formal processes of criminalisation. It then considers possible explanations for Indigenous offending with a particular emphasis on the extent to which policing interacts with and contributes to the high level of Indigenous criminalisation.
Why is a consideration of the nature and extent of Indigenous offending important for an analysis of policing in Indigenous communities? There are both theoretical and policy-oriented responses to this question. Liberal explanations of policing essentially see the police role as a neutral bureaucratic response to individuals who are suspected of violating the criminal law—what Dixon (1997, p. 1) has referred to as the ‘legalistic—bureaucratic’ conception of policing. The law itself is seen as an embodiment of the popular will formulated through the democratic processes of a parliamentary system and thus as an impartial and universal force for justice. Within this view, offenders are those individuals who step outside a normative legal order which has widespread social and political legitimacy. Police are seen as exercising an independent authority bound by the rule of law and legitimised by popular consent (Hall and Scraton 1981, p. 472), thus exercising a specific mandate to uphold the law through enforcement of the criminal law and the maintenance of order. Specific powers are given to the police officer and they are accountable to the law itself (Brogden, Jefferson and Walklate 1988, pp. 1–2).
An understanding of Indigenous offending goes to the heart of the question of whether police, and the criminal justice system more generally, uphold the rule of law with its principle of equality when dealing with Indigenous people. In other words, is