Paperless Arrests as Preventive Detention: Motion and Documentation in the Governance of Indigenous Peoples of Australia

Liam Grealy


The ‘paperless arrest’ scheme is a detention regime in which motion and documentation are central to crime control and community protection. This article interrogates paperlessness as a political fantasy for policing alongside the routine documentary practices of police administration, including their effects on the movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Operative since 2014 in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), the paperless arrest scheme provides police with the power to take an individual into custody for up to four hours if they believe, on reasonable grounds, that the individual has committed, or was about to commit, an infringement notice offence. This article frames paperless arrests as an instance of preventive detention continuous with the long-term regulation of alcohol consumption by Aboriginal people, in relation to racialised norms of public propriety in urban space. It considers preventive detention beyond issues of legality and efficacy, examining local and material relations that organise the everyday governance of preventive detention in Northern Australia.


alcohol policy, preventive detention, race, policing, paper

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