Imagine you decide to start a business. You have an exciting idea and great people to collaborate with. You finish your business plan and are ready to embark on your new challenge. But when you go to the bank and try to open a business account you are refused. You have no history of debt, no criminal convictions and your planned business is completely legal. Sounds outrageous, right? But this is precisely what several sex workers in New Zealand have described experiencing in recent weeks.
Such reports are cause to reflect on where we currently stand with regards sex workers’ rights in this country. New Zealand’s decriminalised framework is widely lauded as world leading in prioritising the rights of sex workers, but incidents like this serve as a reminder that there is still work left to do.
These are not isolated incidents. And such incidents are not unique to New Zealand. Discrimination against sex workers is rampant around the world. Continue reading Stigma and Sex Work→
When I was four, I had a pet goat called Skipper. It wasn’t most the most creative assignment of names. Skipper skipped around a lot. I also had a ewe called Mary (who, incidentally, had a lamb).
Last week, New Zealand Police released a video of an officer using his taser on a goat back in 2016. The officer is seen tasering the goat, which he later described as ‘stressed and uncooperative’, 13times. The goat is seen in severe distress. Turns out that the police have used their weapons to subdue quite a few goats in recent years. Chickens and cats too.
How it that this kind of action toward an animal is considered plausible, and for such a minor offence like ‘getting in our way’? Remember when animals played with us and comforted us, and forgave us for giving them unimaginative names? Animals have taught all of us valuable lessons about empathy and responsibility, whether they lived with us, were in our storybooks or were not real animals at all but stuffed ones sitting on our bed. They were our teachers. Animals are known to help in rehabilitating offenders for these very reasons.
My postgraduate class and I have been discussing how our society is not just anthropogenic but actively speciesist. How as adults we shuffle our childhood animal mentors into categories like stock, wildlife or pest, based on how useful they are to our wellbeing. Continue reading It’s not OK to taser animals→
The Palgrave Handbook of Australian and New Zealand Criminology, Crime and Justice, edited by Antje Deckert and Rick Sarre, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. ISBN: 978-3-319-55747-2.
The Palgrave Handbook is a noteworthy contribution to the Australasian Criminology landscape. Developed to mark the 50th anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology, this 916 page collection features 56 chapters from 78 writers. With 22 New Zealand-based researchers on show, it offers a useful opportunity to examine our crime and justice environment. This review focuses particularly, then, on the chapters produced by NZ researchers.
Fifty years ago, the book ‘Crime in New Zealand’ mapped out the crime problems of the day. It covered issues such as abortion, homosexual sex, liquor laws, ‘ship girls’ and homicide (Department of Justice, 1968). This impactful volume also clung tightly to the notion of crime as violation of law – as one reviewer noted it ‘assume[d] that the present definitions of criminal conduct are correct and that the present processes for dealing with offenders are proper. Only perhaps they should work a little better’ (Glen, 1969: p103). It recorded that Māori (then a tenth of the population) made up a third of the prison population, but decreed that there was no official discrimination within the system.
Let me describe a photo from my childhood. I am 12 years-old, a student at South Wellington Intermediate in Newtown. I look out from under a Chicago Bulls cap pulled low to the eyes, and wear a matching Chicago Bulls t-shirt, sleeves falling loosely below the elbows. One hand is in the pocket of big jeans that sag a little at the back. I had never been to America. Don’t think I had ever met an American face-to-face. Yet I draped American symbols across my young body. We all wore NBA Starter Caps and jeans that sagged a little. Around the time the photo was taken, a survey of New Zealand school students found the most popular celebrity was not a local but the Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan.
At 24, I travelled to the United States to study on exchange at the University of California Berkeley. There was no culture shock. The clothes and the music, the accent and the slang words were already familiar. I understood obscure references to old TV shows because I watched the same ones growing-up. I took a sociology course on racial inequality and read about mass imprisonment for the first time – and was struck by the parallels to New Zealand. I found African-Americans were 13 percent of the general population but 40 percent of all prisoners, similar proportions to Māori. I learned there was a likeness in the timing of prison growth, with prison numbers in both countries relatively stable in the decades after World War II, before exploding in the wake of neoliberal restructuring, largely in the communities worst impacted by welfare cutbacks and declining working-class employment.
Talking about law and order is something of a hazardous occupation, especially within a year either side of a general election. The gloves come off.
Earlier this week, the following blog was posted on David Farrer’s Kiwiblog site:
“Kim Workman has six children from two marriages. Doubtless he has many grandchildren.
I want the photographs of Kim Workman’s grandchildren supplied to every paroled violent offender, along with their names, home addresses and where they go to school.
It is just and fair for the Workman family to share in the fruits of Kim’s lifework along with the rest of NZ society”. Oob, Kiwiblog 11 June 2018
I responded just as viciously:
“For the record, ten grandchildren, and three great grandchildren” Kim Workman, Kiwiblog 11 June 2018
Back came a response:
“Kim: but you haven’t given their names and addresses…or even your own, so those “good people” you say the prisons are full of can come calling when they get out…” David Garrett
The last comment came as something of a surprise. David Garrett is the legal adviser to the Sensible Sentencing Trust. That he would promote the violation of my mokopuna seemed out of sync with Sensible Sentencing’s concern to reduce victimisation.
In a typical law and order debate, political parties increasingly promote policies which appeal to our ‘gut instincts’ i.e. they feel and sound right, but may not be supported by evidence. Since 1987 New Zealand general elections have relied increasingly on law and order policies which attract that kind of reasoning. Here, I want to discuss some of the key messages that political parties have promoted at elections over the last thirty years, whether those political messages are evidence-based, and whether they will reduce crime. Finally, I want to consider what happens when a political party proposes a new way of doing things, and its likelihood of success.
You can read the full 20 page piece by Kim Workman here. This paper was first presented at the Wellington Combined Probus Club, Miramar, Wellington, 14 June 2018. Kim Workman is an Adjunct Research Associate at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington.
I started 2018 with an unmistakable sense of optimism – after years of procrastinating and avoiding the evidence, the Government was going to hold a referendum on legalising cannabis by 2020. Could this be the beginning of an exciting new era of drug policy and drug law reform? Where policy was evidence based, where the harms from drug use could be effectively addressed, and where the damage from criminalisation could be stopped?
Imagine my despondency at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she will not yet commit to legalising cannabis, even if the public vote for it in the referendum. I feel cheated. I am also concerned that the referendum is going to be brought forward to next year, to avoid it affecting the election campaign in 2020, with no hint of the necessary public information campaign to properly support the referendum.
My biggest fear is that the whole thing will end up being a rushed, misinformed, ill-thought-through debacle, and we will have missed a really important chance to make a difference; to respond to drug use and drug users differently and more effectively; to stop the harms related to underground markets and criminalisation. Prohibition of drugs has not stopped people using or having problems with them.
Labour are currently considering a repeal of three strikes laws. Garth McVicar and National are up in arms. No surprises there, they have been trading on misinformed slogans like three strikes for years. This particular slogan was imported, a symbol of our mindless mimicking of American prison policy. The importers did not even think about it long enough to change the name – a baseball metaphor that doesn’t make sense in New Zealand.
Three strikes replaces thoughtful decision-making with blind punitiveness. When a person is convicted of a third ‘strikeable’ offence, the sentencing judge is forced to impose the maximum prison term no matter the circumstances. Without three strikes, they could still hand down the same sentence, but would only do so if careful review of evidence showed it warranted. Three strikes simply forces the maximum regardless of what makes sense in a particular case.
The first New Zealander to be convicted of a third strike was Raven Campbell. He got a seven-year sentence for pinching the bottom of a female guard at Waikeria, where he was already imprisoned. I do not want to excuse his actions. Too many women know what it is like to experience this kind of sexual harassment and assault. Yet any rational review of the case would show the sentence to be a travesty. The judge explicitly said it was unreasonable, but was forced to impose it anyway. Informed decision-making was trumped by the blind logic of a baseball slogan. Continue reading Three Strikes – Prison Policy by Baseball Slogan→
New Zealand was poised for drug reform in 2007, but reform never came. Why do we still adhere to drug prohibition, which will be remembered as one of the most arbitrary, barbaric and brutal systems of oppression in human history?
‘Drug’ Prohibition is an archaic system of control conceived in the 1950s that’s had a devastating global impact upon individuals, families, communities and countries.
Back in the 1950s offensive ideas and practices towards indigenous people, people of colour, women, homosexuals, people with mental illness or learning disabilities were sadly not uncommon. Indeed, abuse was legitimised and normalised at a structural, cultural and interpersonal level. Now almost 70 years later, such bigotry has successfully been exposed and challenged, and such attitudes are for the most part no longer socially acceptable or state approved.
By contrast, the oppressive attitudes in the 1950s directed towards people who used ‘drugs’ became enshrined in the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and little has changed since. We have been duped into using state approved drugs (alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and sugar) within our daily routines and rituals and to embrace them as ‘non-drugs’. These hidden drugs have monopolised and saturated the market, while all substances banned by the government (that we are encouraged to call ‘drugs’) are demonised, presented as unquestionably dangerous.
Why are young Māori over-represented in New Zealand’s youth justice system? Maybe we could start by asking them.
The first Youth Justice Indicators Summary Report, recently released by the Ministry of Justice, shows that young Māori (and Pasifika) increasingly make up the greatest proportion of young people who appear in Youth Court.
We’ve known for a while that young Māori are over-represented in New Zealand’s youth justice system. What we don’t know is why.
Some say young Māori offend more as they are suffering trauma from the intergenerational effects of colonisation. Others say parental incarceration is to blame, as it robs Māori children of their family stability and prison becomes understood as somewhere that Māori go to for a time.
There are also those who argue that the problem is not with Māori but with the criminal justice system. That the over-representation of Māori in our youth system and in our adult jails is a result of institutional bias, i.e. racist cops, prejudiced judges and practices that have a bigger impact on Māori when compared with non-Māori.
We know that there is more than a grain of truth to each of these theories, but we don’t yet have enough research to confirm or refute their claims. So, they are routinely dismissed as radical ideas thrown around by disgruntled Māori and floaty academic types.
It is widely accepted among most drug policy experts that drug prohibition has caused more damage than the actual drugs the government is supposedly protecting us from.
Reform is long overdue. However, we need to think critically and carefully before lurching towards an alternative model.
After decades of frustration from the arbitrary criminalisation of some drugs, while other more dangerous legal substances (alcohol, pharmaceuticals, caffeine and tobacco) have gone under the drug radar, reform is imminent and overdue. ‘Drug Regulation’ is the popular rally call, but what does it mean?
Last week, the NZ Parliament debated an amendment to the 2013 Psychoactive Substances Act which would increase penalties for supplying new psychoactive substances such as synthetic cannabis from two years’ prison time to eight.
The amendment comes in the wake of the Vice documentary Syn City about those struggling with addictions to synthetic cannabis. In an interview to promote the documentary, the journalist behind it called the government’s inaction over synthetics “staggering”. And the government’s response? The tired, drum-banging rhetoric of ‘getting tough’, with its empty promise that this will actually tackle the problems related to synthetic cannabis, or any other drug.
It is a strange moment in New Zealand politics: a Labour government committed to slashing prison numbers, about to build the biggest prison the country has ever seen. A final decision will be made within a month. With each passing day, momentum grows and the build becomes more likely.
The plan is to construct a new facility next to Waikeria prison, creating an enormous prison complex holding up to 3000 people. That is much larger than even the United Kingdom’s largest prison – HMP Berwyn, capacity 2100 – four countries with a combined population of 65 million.
Six months ago, no one would have expected Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis to support the build. In opposition, he was a radical critic and favorite of prison reform advocates, myself included.
Davis in office seems drained of all imagination. Now he oversees 9000 corrections staff and a prison system filled to overflowing. Conditions inside are terrible, with prisoners double-bunked and forced into shipping containers or emergency beds intended for disaster readiness. Routine inspections report endemic levels of violence and assault. Frontline staff are stretched to breaking-point. Continue reading Countdown to the Mega-Prison→
The Department of Correction propose to build a 3000-bed prison at Waikeria which would initially house 25% of the national prison population, and be almost three times larger than the current largest prison, Rimutaka (1067 prisoners). It is also larger than similar prisons elsewhere; the Titan prisons proposed in the UK were for 2,500 prisoners, and the largest prison in Western Europe was originally built for 2,600 prisoners, but now holds 3,500.
The Waikeria Prison proposal is considered the fastest and most cost-effective way of housing the growing number of inmates; Corrections can use land it already owns and contends that a mega-prison will provide operational efficiencies. In its report, Corrections stressed urgency and identified risks to public safety, outbreaks of violence and disorder, and inability to provide rehabilitation programmes, if the proposal did not proceed. It also emphasised its obligations to operate within the law.
Kim Workman has written a discussion paper for the Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister of Corrections. It addresses the Minister’s intention to reduce the prison population by 30% over the next 15 years.
This paper is intended to feed into future discussion about a downsizing strategy for New Zealand. It describes and analyses the experience of four states (California, New Jersey, New York and Alaska) that have successfully downsized their prison population by more than 25% over ten years, and also describes the historical experience of downsizing in Canada, Finland and Germany. It considers: (a) the current New Zealand situation, (b) the strategies implemented by selected nations and states that have successfully downsized, (c) the outcomes of downsizing; and (d) the evidence-based principles which support a downsizing strategy.
The key findings support the Minister’s intention.
The Reduction of the prison population by 30% over the next 15 years, is readily achievable, and probably conservative.
Surveys show there is a public willingness for change.
Confirms that reducing the remand population is an essential and urgent step to reducing reoffending.
There is no evidence that shortening sentences increases reoffending.
There is no evidence one way or the other, that releasing prisoners early is a threat to public safety.
There is no real difference, in terms of reoffending, between prison sentences and community based sentences.
Prison based rehabilitation programmes are ethically wise, but make no significant impact on reducing the prison population.
If downsizing is the goal, rehabilitation and reintegration resources are better directed toward community-based desistance programmes.
Surveillance on its own is ineffective, and should be accompanied by treatment.