Exploring law Students’ Perspectives of the Indigenous Over Representation in the Australian Criminal Justice System

Danika Mccormick1, Peta Dzidic1
Curtin University

Indigenous Australians are disproportionately incarcerated within Australian prisons, and this has been found to be, in part, due to systemic racism within the Criminal Justice System. Early research suggests that cultural competency within undergraduate law degrees may help to reduce systemic racism within the Criminal Justice System. As such, the aim of this study was to explore how undergraduate law students conceptualise the overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians within the Criminal Justice System. An exploratory qualitative design was utilised, whereby semi structured interviews were conducted with 12 students enrolled in undergraduate Law degrees in West Australia. A thematic analysis of the data, as outlined by Braun and Clarke, revealed three themes. The first theme, ‘Silent Issue’, outlines how participants perceived the Indigenous over incarceration rate as an important issue but that public knowledge and discourse in the area is lacking. The second theme, ‘Causes: System or Individual?’ highlights how some participants attributed systemic racism as the cause of the Indigenous incarceration rate, while others blamed negative characteristic perceived to be inherent to Indigenous people and culture. The final theme, ‘A Desire for Change’, highlighted how some participants thought Indigenous self-determination was imperative, while others promoted assimilation. A key implication of these findings is that there appears to be merit the inclusion of cultural competency units within undergraduate law degrees, and in further research should explore this.


I have just completed a Bachelor of Psychology (Hons) at Curtin university, and will commence a PhD in 2020. My Honours project explored how Law students’ conceptualise the Indigenous over incarceration rate, in order to assess the necessity of cultural competency units within undergraduate law degrees.

I haven’t finalised my PhD topic yet, but am very interested in researching either systemic racism within the Criminal Justice System, or restorative justice.


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