Risk factors for Aboriginal offenders

Research summary
Vol. 11 No. 5
September 2006


Are risk factors for criminal behaviour similar for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders?


The majority of the research identifying risk factors related to criminal offending has been conducted on non-Aboriginal male offenders. As a result, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether these risk factors are equally applicable to Aboriginal male offenders.

Research on non-Aboriginal male offenders has identified eight central risk factors. The central eight risk factors include: history of antisocial behaviour, antisocial personality, antisocial attitudes, antisocial peers, family/marital problems, school/employment difficulties, absence of positive leisure or recreational activities, and substance abuse.


A review of the literature was conducted to determine whether the central eight risk factors also applied to Aboriginal male offenders. The review included empirical studies comparing risk factors for non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal offender groups as well as non-empirical discussion papers and commentaries. Even though the literature search included published papers, unpublished manuscripts and governmental reports, few empirical studies specifically examining risk factors for male Aboriginal offenders were found.


Research conducted on the applicability of each risk factor to male Aboriginal offenders varied, depending on the risk factor being examined. A history of antisocial behaviour, usually defined as criminal history, was the most studied of all the risk factors. The findings were clear; criminal history predicted risk equally well for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders. Although there was less research on the role of substance abuse, antisocial attitudes, antisocial personality and antisocial peers, research to date suggests that these are also important risk factors for male Aboriginal offenders.

In short, the existing research supports the applicability of most of the central eight risk factors with Aboriginal offenders. The exceptions were family/marital and school/employment. Research regarding these two risk factors is mixed and requires further examination.

Also, it has been suggested that there may be additional culture-related risk factors that pertain to Aboriginal offenders but not to non-Aboriginal offenders. For example, lack of cultural identity and the need for group membership have both been proposed as risk factors specific to Aboriginal male offenders. However, there is little research in this area. Although cultural differences may play a role in terms of risk factors, they appear to play a much more important role in the development of treatment strategies and the delivery of appropriate and successful interventions.

Policy implications

  1. Research to date suggests that the majority of risk factors are the same for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal offenders. Therefore, the assessment of risk for Aboriginal offenders can be informed by the research conducted with non-Aboriginal offenders.
  2. Given that the risk factors are similar for Aboriginal offenders and many of the current risk assessment instruments developed on non-Aboriginal samples consist of these factors, the risk assessment instruments may be equally valid in predicting recidivism for male Aboriginal offenders.
  3. Additional research is required to further examine the two risk factors where research is less conclusive and to assess the validity of culture-related risk factors. This research endeavour should occur as a collaborative multidisciplinary effort between researchers and the Aboriginal community to ensure optimal results.


For further information

Tanya Rugge, Ph.D.
Corrections Research
Public Safety Canada
340 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0P8
Phone: 613-991-2826
Fax: 613-990-8295
E-mail: Tanya.Rugge@ps-sp.gc.ca

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