The Role of Culture in Identity Transformation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Men who have Sexually Offended: Findings from a Cultural Mentoring Reintegration Program

Kelly Richards

Queensland University of Technology, Faculty of Law, School of Justice
Senior Lecturer

Dr Kelly Richards is a Senior Lecturer in Queensland University of Technology’s Faculty of Law, School of Justice. She completed a PhD on restorative justice at Western Sydney University in 2007 and in 2010 was awarded the ACT Government Office for Women Audrey Fagan Churchill Fellowship to study Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) in Canada, the USA and the UK. Her current research, funded by Australia's National Organisation for Women’s Safety (with Dr Jodi Death, Queensland University of Technology, and Professor Kieran McCartan, University of the West of England) includes the first study into CoSA in Australia. This research also examines the role of cultural mentoring support for Indigenous offenders released under Queensland’s Dangerous Prisoners (Sexual Offenders) Act 2006 as well as the views of victim/survivors of sexual violence on sex offender reintegration broadly and on CoSA specifically. Dr Richards has also undertaken research on public opinion about CoSA and the causes of child sexual abuse, and the role of identity change in the desistance narratives of sexual offenders.

Reintegration following prison can be especially challenging for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (A&TSI) people who have sexually offended, as many are not allowed to return to their home communities due to the nature of their offending. One innovative practice initiative that has been introduced to alleviate this issue is the Cultural Mentoring Program, which provides A&TSI offenders with one-on-one cultural and spiritual mentoring support from an Elder. After providing a brief overview of this A&TSI-led program, this presentation will explore how (re)connecting offenders with aspects of A&TSI cultures shaped the desistance journeys of the men who participated in the program. In particular, it will give voice to the men who participated in the study, and demonstrate, in their words, how culture shapes their identity transformations post-prison.

The study was funded by Australia's National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) and is part of a larger study about sexual offender reintegration in Australia. Findings from the research will have relevance beyond the Cultural Mentoring Program, as very little has been documented about good practice in reintegrating A&TSI offenders generally or A&TSI sex offenders specifically.