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09 Apr 2021

Media releases

Culture not a risk factor for youth incarceration

Contrary to recent media coverage, culture is not responsible for the overrepresentation of African youth in Victorian crime statistics, according to community-based social business Settlement Services International (SSI).

Commentary released yesterday highlighted “culture” as being the reason that African youth comprise 19 per cent of young people in custody in Victoria, despite accounting for less than 0.5 per cent of Victoria’s youth population.

The statistics themselves stemmed from recent research from Australian academic Dr Stephane Shepherd which – importantly – showed no evidence to suggest that culture was responsible for this overrepresentation, SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis said.

“It is concerning to see research selectively re-published in this way. We know that public commentary has a trickle-down effect into our communities. In particular, it can influence attitudes towards groups that are already at increased risk of racial vilification and discrimination,” she said.

“As Dr Shepherd has said himself, culture isn’t a risk factor for youth incarceration. Actual risk factors include, among other things, early exposure to crime, neglect, and poor parental attachment.”

Ms Roumeliotis said it was important to make a distinction between correlation and causation in order to avoid fueling racism in our communities.

“It is concerning to see commentary linking culture with crime, when there is no evidence to support this. It was only a few years ago that a wave of media coverage of ‘African gang crime’ led to increased racially motivated threats made against members of the African community,” she said.

“Freedom of the press is one of the cornerstones of our democracy, but mistruths that perpetuate stereotypes about culturally and linguistically diverse communities have no place in public discourse.”

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