Well, what a year 2018 was in terms of drug policy and drug law reform, both in New Zealand and farther afield.
New Zealand saw the debates surrounding the cannabis referendum intensify. A bill to allow terminally ill people to access medical cannabis recently passed. The Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry, He Ara Oranga, called for the decriminalisation of illegal drugs to address problems relating to addiction and mental health. The government made new announcements around synthetics.
Elsewhere, more US states have legalised the sale and recreational use of cannabis, and in October Canada legalised it too. In places that have enacted wide-reaching, much-needed drug law reform, there have been no dramatic increases in the use of cannabis or other drugs, especially among young people. All very encouraging for New Zealand as we look towards possibly wide-reaching, much-needed reforms of our own approach to illegal drugs. Continue reading Drug Law Reforms→
Since April, prison numbers have been slashed 8 per cent and 800 people released. The fall is especially surprising as forecasts predicted large increases.
Critics warned of crisis if the Government did not build a billion-dollar mega prison. Yet at this rate, Labour would achieve their ambitious goal of cutting prison numbers 30 per cent in less than four years.
The Department of Corrections are leading the reforms. Their approach involves clearing internal barriers to prisoners’ release: having staff help illiterate prisoners fill forms and make phone calls to arrange bail, for example, and delivering programs earlier in sentences to get them ready for parole. “It’s all common sense,” says Leigh Marsh, head of the departmental changes. “Really, really simple stuff.”
The innovation is in the politics. Labour are stuck with a conservative coalition partner and struggling to get the necessary votes for legislative change, so are sidestepping Parliament all together. By working inside the state machinery they inherited, they are avoiding the public relations hit of trying to change bail or parole laws.
Yet they are also making trade-offs: locating reform inside corrections limits the scope and transformative potential.
Much of what is happening seems like a shift in styles of control, as people are moved from prison cells to various forms of electronic monitoring, intensive supervision and home detention. Three quarters of the 40,000 people managed by the department are already in the community. Continue reading Substituting Controls→
The journalist and poet, Behrouz Boochani, fled Iran after the storming of his magazine’s offices by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Accused of promoting Kurdish culture and language, his colleagues were arrested.
Boochani made two attempts for political asylum in Australia, nearly drowning on the way. On the second try, the fully-laden boat was rescued by a British tanker. All those onboard were taken to Christmas Island and, from there, authorities transferred him to Manus Island.
Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea (PNG), looms large in writings on asylum. The neutrally-titled ‘Regional Processing Centre’ (or what Boochani calls ‘Manus Prison’) was part of the Australian government’s ‘Pacific Solution’. It represented a control fix for the Australian government who had been struggling with ever-growing resistance and solidarity with those held in ‘onshore’ centres, like Woomera. Any plight was to be out of sight, out of mind. Besides, politicians might record that no-one had arrived onto Australian soil, so they bore no legal obligations to provide internationally-established protections.
Over the years, thousands have been incarcerated on Manus (in 2014, over 1,300 were held). It formed a node in the bigger carceral archipelago for those who had the temerity to flee terror and seek refuge. Most travelled from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Myanmar… places that have often been made unstable and dangerous from Western interventions.
Manus (like all Australian immigration sites, including Christmas Island, Nauru, Villawood in Sydney, Yonga Hill near Perth) faced heavy criticism from detainees, human rights organisations, doctors, lawyers, academics, advocates, and others. Sexual violence, physical assaults and threats dominated. Two workers were sentenced for the murder of a young Iranian asylum seeker during a detainee protest.
Ramping up the controls, here and elsewhere, the Australian government established the 2015 Border Force Act that now enables the two-year imprisonment of ‘entrusted persons’ who speak out about gross human rights violations in immigration detention centres.
In 2016, following a PNG Supreme Court decision that the ‘Centre’ was illegal for its breaches of constitutional rights to personal liberty, local politicians retracted their support for the prison. It closed in late 2017. Three new ‘transit centres’ have established to hold the men.
In recent weeks, a grainy video has been circulating on YouTube. It shows one of NZ’s Professors, a well-known Criminologist, in action. I watched it a few days ago. It’s just over twenty minutes long and contains clips from a series of lectures given over the entirety of a course.
I sat down to watch with some trepidation. We have all messed up in lectures. I thought of my worst scenarios, and began to imagine them beamed around the world. All teachers go off on tangents, we are not textbooks. I’m sure some of my students would attest that I sometimes get distracted, waylaid, and I probably make a few too many bad jokes.
I don’t always get ideas across in the best ways possible. I’m northern English, and while I’ve lived in NZ for over 15 years, my ability to properly engage with Māori and Pasifika communities is admittedly a work in progress. Still, I want everyone to come to lectures or seminars and to see them as nourishing, safe, interesting and research-loaded experiences.
I thought about the student who had uploaded the clip. I worried for them – it’s one thing to record something for personal study, but another to distribute it so widely. I wondered about the ethics of doing this.
I have struggled too with the politics of writing this short piece. I am mindful that the video excerpts are just that….short snips amid the hours of lecturing. We are missing the context. But, I am also aware of the responsibility that comes with our position, to challenge injustice where we see it, to be a ‘critic and conscience’.
I have also bothered about my discipline – that viewers might watch this video and get the wrong impression. NZ Criminology is generally very well-regarded for its rigorous nature. The Institute of Criminology, where I work, is continually praised by international and national peers for its high quality teaching, excellent research, professionalism and educational standards. These Youtube portrayals are not the norm for my discipline. Continue reading Criminological Thinking→
Do gang members really have more access to guns these days, and were we truly surrounded by child-faced killers in the recent past? Dr Sarah Monod de Froideville’s research looks at moral panics and how we can better understand them.
These days it’s P cooks poisoning our houses to fuel the epidemic, or the trigger-happy gang members down the street with an arsenal of weapons at their fingertips that we should all fear. While in the past it was the dangers of speeding boy racers, and even further back the threat of comic books that caused society to panic.
Moral panics are phenomena that regularly sweep through societies, and yet they are not fully understood, says Sarah Monod de Froideville, a lecturer in Victoria University of Wellington’s Institute of Criminology whose book, Making Sense of Moral Panics,explores the concept of moral panics and how they should be studied.
“A moral panic describes a period when we jump up and down about something we believe threatens us—usually a new behaviour or event (or object) that we don’t understand that well—and our reaction is out of proportion to a threat, if there is one at all,” says Monod de Froideville.
“Usually something will trigger the reaction. Something will happen, somebody will jump on it and then the media seizes on it and talk about the behaviour or event in a highly emotive way, and then an interest group will take it up to try and direct the discourse because it serves their interests to do so. Politicians tend to get nervous at this point, and call for an inquiry or a law to be passed.”
These behaviours and events then become an issue for society that “very often has nothing to do with any kind of real problem” and leads to some “very awful legislation that can be quite punitive and unjust in its effects”. Continue reading Understanding Moral Panics→
The Royal Commission into Historical Abuse was fully launched this week. With skilled Commissioners at the helm, there is much to like about this new body.
The headline news was that the Commission would expose the abuse in faith-based institutions alongside that in state care placements. The Bishops came out to demonstrate their support. Let us all hope that they will still be ‘standing up to be counted’ when the concerns of apologies, compensation and institutional changes are recommended over the next few years.
The Commission now has an extensive remit, and rightly so. The experiences of those abused in foster care, adoption placements, children’s homes, state residences, borstals, psychiatric hospitals, disability facilities, health camps, early childhood facilities, state schools, special residential schools, teen parent units, police cells, court cells and even places of transport between care settings will all be examined.
Alongside children and young people, ‘vulnerable adults’ (such as those who have mental health problems or disabilities) will have their abuse recognised.
The Commission will also be able to uncover the structural, systemic and practical factors that contributed to abuse, and tell us about the impacts on victims but also their families, whānau, hapū, iwi and communities, including how the trauma of abuse crosses over generations.
So much of this is commendable. It has the potential to change the way we think about many social problems – crime, mental health, family breakdowns, state interventions.
Yet, amid the fanfare, there is a creeping feeling of state self-protection. A few months ago, I had a conversation with a senior government worker on the draft Terms for this Commission. He happily remarked ‘We missed a bullet there!’ And, today, I am sure that many senior civil servants and politicians are feeling quietly comfortable at the confirmation that the Commission will not have any great impact on them or their institutional operations. Continue reading Royal Commission as State Protection?→
I was member on a panel a few months back to discuss the theme of ‘dark environments’. The panel was run by the Stout Centre for New Zealand studies and was part of their ‘Stranger than Fiction’ series. Each panel featured members from very different disciplines, and the idea was to see how different scholars made sense of various themes.
I figured I got my invite for the ’dark environments’ panel because I’m a ‘green’ criminologist who studies environmental harm. Semantics and all that. But it got me thinking about our discipline and how the concept of dark environments is meaningful to criminology in a bunch of different ways, but also how it serves as a useful reminder about what it is that we are charged with doing.
We study dark environments all the time: city streets where the lights go out; night-time economies and the illicit drug cultures that thrive there; silenced stories of sexual violence; redacted and archived abuses by the state; shady deals between traders at the borders; concrete fortresses at the edges of our cities and towns. One could go on. Continue reading Dark places→
Day two of the criminal justice summit. Kelvin Davis takes the stage to talk about Corrections’ plan to reduce prison numbers. He opens by saying we have the second highest incarceration rate in the world. He is wrong: years ago, we were second in the OECD behind the United States, but we are fifth now, and 60th of 222 countries worldwide. The person at the head of our prison system should know better.
The floor is opened for audience participation. A young man on parole introduces himself with a pepeha in te reo Māori. He was on remand in prison for 18 months, he says, and his 20-year-old cousin and co-defendant hanged himself in his cell. They were imprisoned together but separated, so he could not say goodbye. He reads a poem about the “concrete cage that seems to be my home”.
Then a woman describes someone trying to kill her, fracturing her skull and “smashing my body to pieces”. She learned her 3-year-old had been murdered in the next room. As she speaks, it should have been her daughter’s 25th birthday. “Happy birthday, Brittany,” she says.
I listen from the edge of the open-plan conference room in Porirua with 700 other people. I am a criminologist and my mind races to make sense of these haunting stories. I dwell on the links between them, how they feel woven together, victimisation inside prison and out. I am planning a lecture on reform for the Victoria University course I teach on prisons in New Zealand. I wonder: what can we learn from these stories about the failures of our social order and how we might better prevent harm to our people? Continue reading Myths Don’t Do Us Justice→
When Verna McFelin founded Pillars over 25 years ago, no one recognised that the children of prisoners were victims of crime – ten times more likely to end up in prison, than the children of non-prisoners. Social services made no special provision for the children, who today number around 23,000. Verna changed that conversation through her advocacy for the rights of children, and developing best practice to prevent inter-generational offending.
…Last week, 700 people met to discuss criminal justice reform. Public servants, criminal justice professionals, gang members, victims, ex-prisoners, police and corrections officials, academics and politicians. The discussions were diverse, and covered a range of perspectives. But when Jayne Crothall whose daughter was murdered in 1993 took the floor it became instant headlines. It was a heart-rending story of brutality. In her view, victims had been ‘frozen out’ of the Summit. The media made headlines of her concerns, but in doing so failed to inform the public that three of the Justice Minister’s Justice Advisory Group had a special expertise in victims’ interests, that a special session on victim’s issues had been facilitated by the Chief Victim’s Adviser Dr Kim McGregor at the Summit, and that two teenagers had testified about the impact of domestic violence on their mother. In addition, every prisoner who spoke, described horrendous physical and sexual abuse suffered as children.
When Jayne’s comments were reinforced by National’s Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell, news release, who claimed that “Andrew Little’s attitude showed he was firmly on the side of offenders and didn’t want to know about victims of crime,” it was game over. As they say in the media, ‘what bleeds, leads”. There was no mention in the media that Jayne had met with her daughter’s murderer to help him through his healing journey. That part of the story didn’t fit their purpose.
I don’t blame Mark Mitchell for playing the ‘victims’ vs ‘offenders’ game – It is a political tactic that has served successive governments over the last thirty years, it is a critical part of the ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric – but it needs to stop. Continue reading Who Are the Victims?→
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.