Inter-relationships among cultural identity, discrimination, distress, agency, and safety among indigenous people in custody


Shepherd, Stephane M.; Delgado, Rosa Hazel; Paradies, Yin


A strong cultural identity has been shown to protect against psychological distress prompted by discriminatory experiences. However, these associations are scientifically unknown for people who have contact with the criminal justice system. Examining the relationships between cultural identity and mental health could enlighten efforts to improve the wellbeing of offenders, many of whom have experienced numerous negative life events and stressors. This study aimed to address these concerns by assessing the influence of cultural identity on distress, agency, community safety and discrimination for 78 Indigenous prisoners in custody in Australia. Findings revealed that possessing a stronger cultural identity effected lower levels of distress. Participants with weaker cultural identities had higher levels of distress and lower levels of agency. Furthermore, a reduced feeling of safety in the broader community appeared to have a greater negative impact on participants with weaker cultural identities. Levels of distress increased as perceptions of discrimination increased, immaterial to one's degree of cultural identity. However, results suggest that high identifiers were potentially able to alleviate this distress, perhaps through enhanced agency and engagement in cultural activities. Findings underscore the need for forensic clinicians to consider notions of cultural identity when engaging with, assessing and treating Indigenous clients.

Publication year


Publication type

Journal article


International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, Vol. 17, no. 2 (2018), pp. 111-121






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