The Federation Press

Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice


Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice explores contemporary strategies which might reduce the extraordinary levels of imprisonment and victimisation suffered by Aboriginal people in Australia. These are problems that continue to rise despite numerous inquiries and reports.

Harry Blagg disputes the relevance of the western, urban, criminological paradigm to the Aboriginal domain, and questions the application of both contemporary innovations such as restorative justice and mainstream models of policing. He also refutes allegations that Aboriginal customary laws condone violence against women and children, pointing to the wealth of research to the contrary, and suggests these laws contain considerable potential for renewal and healing. This book maintains that unresolved questions of colonisation, decolonisation and sovereignty lie at the heart of debates about criminal justice in post-colonial Australia. It explores the potential for ‘hybrid’ initiatives in the complex ‘liminal’ space between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal domains, for example, Aboriginal community/night patrols, community justice groups, healing centres and Aboriginal courts.

This new edition covers emerging issues such as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) and reports on the consequences of the Commonwealth Government's contentious 'intervention' in remote Northern Territory communities in 2007.


Reviews of previous edition:

Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice is by no means a pessimistic book. Blagg describes and analyses in intricate detail a range of Aboriginal initiatives which, despite chronic financial insecurity and governmental neglect, are slowly reforming justice in Aboriginal Australia. Space precludes discussion of what Blagg calls ‘governance from below’ or ‘community justice mechanisms’ but these include community patrols, Aboriginal and Circle Sentencing Courts, community justice groups and Family Violence initiatives. In all these initiatives, Blagg highlights the role of Aboriginal women and the need to acknowledge the limitations of non-Indigenous feminist theorising in accounting for the experiences and views of Indigenous women. Underlying all attempts at justice reform in Australia is the relationship between non-Indigenous law and Aboriginal Customary Law. Drawing on major research in Western Australia, Blagg argues against both the media-fuelled sensationalised caricature of customary law (obsessed with ‘spearing’) and the inaccurate mythology of Aboriginal male entitlement to violence and sexual abuse peddled (often in prison) by disenfranchised Aboriginal men. Instead, Blagg calls for a serious consideration of the potential of customary law to re-establish some of the positive traditional aspects of Aboriginal living. Driven by a passionate concern to improve both social and criminal justice for Aboriginal people, Blagg confronts a host of highly controversial issues and, as a white, male, British-born researcher, his willingness to do this is courageous. But while his views may draw criticism from some quarters there will be few who challenge his credentials to express them. Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice is based on the author’s research of, and commitment to, Aboriginal people in Australia over a period exceeding fifteen years. It is suffused with a depth of understanding and respect that should make it a landmark publication. - The Howard Journal, July 2009, Professor Anne Worrall, Keele University, UK

Blagg’s book has a refreshing premise: Indigenous crime is not integral to Indigenous society. Blagg goes head-to-head with the contention that violent and sexual crimes are tolerated by customary law. … By contrast, Blagg’s study demonstrates that there is no such toleration of violence and sexual assaults in Indigenous communities. Blagg points to consultations with remote communities in the Kimberley region, as part of the Western Australian Customary Law Inquiry, which found no acceptance of so-called traditional violence. … A major strength of Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice is that it marries a theoretical critique of the existing criminal justice system (particularly the role of policing) with practical examples of alternative community justice programs which resonate with Blagg’s notion of ‘restorative vision’. However, at the same time, a shortcoming of the book is that the approach advocated by the author remains, at times, tied to existing schemes (such as community patrols), rather than reflecting on how Indigenous laws may operate free from government-imposed outcomes. Overall, Blagg’s text represents a marked departure from the colonial legacy in government approaches to Indigenous crime. It is a rigorous and theoretically informed attempt to shift the debate from a government-controlled process to a hybrid process evolved from the current realities in Indigenous communities and the strengths of Indigenous structures. ...In the current context, the community justice programs that Blagg discusses provide a constructive alternative to the top-down intervention into Indigenous communities. - Current Issues in Criminal Justice, March 2009, Thalia Anthony, University of Sydney, Law School

You may ask, what could a book titled: Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice, have to do with health, and why would the Medical Journal of Australia consider it worth a review? Harry Blagg is one of Australia’s most eminent researchers on criminal justice including family violence, in Aboriginal communities. His research, conducted in partnership with Aboriginal communities is widely published, hence he brings particular expertise, which makes this book both confronting and thought-provoking. Blagg refutes allegations that Aboriginal customary laws condone violence against women and children, pointing to the wealth of research to the contrary. He suggests these laws contain considerable potential for renewal and healing. The book, while easy to read if you know the subject, will confront some readers, and hopefully force them to think more deeply about the decolonisation of justice. Hopefully some readers might choose to also think more deeply about the deconstruction of the medical system, so that the development of hybrid initiatives of health and wellbeing might also be possible. … At $49.95, the cost is a little more than I would have anticipated for a book of just over 200 pages, but is non-the-less value for money, in so far as it has me thinking of links between law and health; gaps and possibilities – more particularly the need to explore, rather than ignore, liminal spaces between Aboriginal notions of ceremony as forms of transition including syncretic changes in status relationships between social domains – social domains that construct justice and health or ill-health, and crime. - Medical Journal of Australia, 2008, Judy Atkinson, Professor of Indigenous Australian Studies, Southern Cross University

Harry Blagg has written a unique book that fills a yawning gap in Australian criminal justice literature ... a much needed resource for advance undergraduate teaching ... can only enliven Indigenous scholarship and activism. It is the articulation of a process for systemic change, and the breadth and consistency of its decolonising vision, rather than the prescription of a definitive set of solutions, that mark Blagg's achievement in this book. - Australian Journal of Human Rights, Vol 14 (1)

Harry's book offers insight into the role of the criminal justice system in continuing the colonisation of Indigenous Australians; it highlights the limitations of the well-intentioned "new justice" approaches; and focuses attention on the misunderstood role of Aboriginal customary law... Overall Harry presents us with a detailed and provocative discussion of the limitations of mainstream and many "alternative" justice responses to violence in Aboriginal communities. He proposes that the way forward is to develop hybrid, community-owned initiatives in the liminal space between the non-Aboriginal and the Aboriginal domain. - Queensland Centre for Domestic and Family Violence Research, June 2008

Table of Contents


1.  Decolonising Criminology
2.  Criminal Justice as Waste Management: Modernity and its Shadow
3.  Aboriginal Youth: Culture, Resistance and the Dynamics of Self-destruction
4.  Restorative Justice: A Good Idea Whose Time has Gone?
5.  Aboriginal People and Policing
6.  Aboriginal Self-policing Initiatives
7.  Silenced in Court? Aboriginal People and Court Innovations
8.  Family Violence
9.  Aboriginal Customary Law: From Denial to Recognition
10. Aboriginal Customary Law: From Recognition to Abolition
11. Governance from Below: Community Justice Mechanisms, Crime and Disorder

Concluding Comments: Moving Forward


Of interest...