By Mike Roettger,* Krystal Lockwood and Susan Dennison

This report was first published by the Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse.

Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at the highest rate of any people in the world (Anthony, 2017) and at a rate 16 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018). Meanwhile the Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand are imprisoned at 7 times the rate of the general population (New Zealand Department of Corrections, 2019). These disproportional rates of imprisonment lead to disproportional impacts on Indigenous and Māori children.

Experience of parental incarceration compounds existing adversities in the lives of many children whose parents offend and is associated with an increased risk of antisocial behaviour and imprisonment, mental and physical health issues, substance use, academic difficulties, and social marginalisation or exclusion in offspring (Murray, Bijleveld, Farrington, & Loeber, 2014; Besemer & Dennison, 2018). These impacts hold true for Indigenous children who are also more likely to experience residential instability, abuse and neglect, and poverty (Ball et al, 2016). The effects of parental imprisonment may extend from birth to death, and across multiple generations and kinship networks.

In this report, we review existing research and interventions for improving outcomes of Indigenous children who experience parental imprisonment. Supporting children and their families is one way to disrupt the intergenerational impacts of incarceration. We identify the types of programs and policies required to reduce the impact of parental imprisonment on Indigenous children.


Anthony, Thalia. (2017). FactCheck Q&A: Are Indigenous Australians the most incarcerated people on Earth? The Conversation.

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018). Prisoners in Australia, 2018. ABS cat no. 4517.0. Canberra: ABS.[email protected]/mh/4517.0.

Ball, C., Circhton, S., Templeton, R., Tumen, S., Ota, R., & MacCormick, C. (2016). Characteristics of Children at Greater Risk of Poor Outcomes as Adults. Wellington, NZ: The Treasury.

Besemer, K.L & Dennison, S.M. (2018). Social exclusion in families affected by paternal imprisonment. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 51(2), 221-238. DOI: 10.1177/00004865817701530.

Murray, J., Bijleveld, C.C., Farrington, D.P., & Loeber, R. (2014). Effects of parental incarceration on children: Cross-national comparative studies. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

New Zealand Department of Corrections (Ara Poutama Aotearoa). (2019). Prison facts and statistics, March 2019.

*Dr Mike Roettger is a Lecturer in Demography in the ANU College of Arts & Sciences