Narratives of youth diversion in NSW: silences around Indigeneity and gender

Dr Estrella Pearce1

1The University Of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people are grossly over-represented in Australian prisons, making up 25% of the total Australian prison population in 2020. This over-representation is more pronounced in the juvenile justice system, with ATSI youth comprising 48% of all those in detention in 2020. Similarly, alarming statistics characterise the growing rate of imprisonment of ATSI women in Australia; ATSI women are the fastest growing demographic in Australian prisons and account for 33% of all incarcerated women in Australia. This over-representation is higher for ATSI young women, with ATSI young women compromising 56% of all young women in detention in the juvenile justice system. Based on an analysis of the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW) and qualitative research examining decision-making on diversion, this article will focus on the ways in which young ATSI women become the most disadvantaged group before the Australian criminal justice system. This paper argues that the intersections of disadvantage and oppression faced by young ATSI women, based on race, gender, and social class, are perpetuated by the Australian criminal justice system’s resolute commitment to the myth of gender and racial neutrality. This is demonstrated in interviews with key decision makers’ silences on issues of gender and race and a corresponding insistence on the gender and racial ‘equality’ of law. The systemic pattern of gender and race bias that is entrenched in the Australian criminal justice system needs to be decolonised through Indigenous feminist methodologies. Ultimately, this paper suggests that decolonised and post-colonial knowledges must form the foundation of any proposed solutions to the problem of ATSI over-representation in Australian prisons.


Estrella Pearce is a Lecturer in Criminology at the School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS) at the University of Sydney. Her research interests include the exploration of restorative justice practices in the context of youth governance. She has an interest in exploring the various ways in which the broader social/political and micro institutional practices within the criminal justice system affect at-risk youth, with a particular interest in the intersections of disadvantages experienced through race and gender.


Dec 08 2021