Black lives matter: The violence of Indigenous incarceration

Mrs Kirstie Broadfield1

1James Cook University, Cairns, Australia

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, over thirty years ago, there have been over 400 Indigenous deaths in custody, with 28% of the Australian prison population identifying as Indigenous. Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system continues to be an unresolved issue despite varying attempts to reduce the high incidence of incarceration experienced by Indigenous Australians.  This paper presents the outcomes of a PhD research project that applied a fresh approach to analysing the violence of Indigenous incarceration using the theory of necropolitics and related concepts.  Using semi-structured interviews with Indigenous Australian former offenders, coroner’s reports and official statistics, this paper unveils the forms of, and extent of, violence experienced by Indigenous Australians and the extent to which unequal relations of power contribute to this violence.   The outcomes from this research suggest that Indigenous Australian are being ‘necropolitically targeted’, ‘zombified’ and transmogrified into homo sacer by the criminal justice system.  Furthermore, the research has unveiled how the unequal relations of power between Indigenous Australians and the criminal justice system leads to a sense of Deific Authority, and as a result of this, how criminal justice officers become more prone to intentionally, negligently and/ or recklessly inflicting symbolic, systemic, and subjective violence on Indigenous Australians.  This paper will finish by recommending some pragmatic outcomes in terms of what could be done within the criminal justice system to reduce these forms of violence.


Kirstie undertook a Bachelor of Arts in Indigenous Studies because she was deeply troubled by both the historical and contemporary social injustices faced by Indigenous Australians.  She followed this with Honours in Anthropology investigating the potential of an Indigenous Australian development model to address the imbalance in social, political, and economic power in discrete Indigenous communities.  Her PhD investigates the extent to which unequal relations of power contribute to forms of violence experienced by Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system.


Dec 08 2021