NZ Criminology

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.

Thankfully, half a century makes quite a difference. Our regional Criminological scholarship has become more critically reflective and theoretically imaginative. This Handbook includes many useful, high-quality chapters, including on: domestic violence/violence against women; sexual violence and harassment (and the impact of new technologies in changing the nature of these offences); cybercrimes; corporate and white-collar crime; corruption; border policing and refugees; peacekeeping; terrorism and anti-terrorism laws; criminal justice privatization; restorative justice; green criminology, among others. Within these works, there is much to inform all social scientists – the chapters are rich in their debates on social inequalities, colonization, gender relations, the nature of ‘harm’ or violence, state relationships, culture, environment, sovereignty, economy…there is something here for everyone. All of this indicates that Criminology is certainly thriving. Most Australasian Universities now offer Criminology courses and, in Australia at least, there are significant resources and funding directed to criminological projects (the official acceptance of the necessity of Criminological research to understand crime or influence law and policy-making has not yet filtered through to New Zealand).

As an indicator of how crime and justice are managed in New Zealand, this volume is however sobering reading. Take the changes in our news reporting on crime – in May 1992, 21% of the NZ Herald’s hard news articles related to crime; during March 2016, this figure had shifted to 31% (McGregor, Chapter 6). As newsroom resources have dwindled, the nature of reporting has also substantively changed, from sources and court-reporting to more emotive, celebrity-driven, desk-top investigated articles (McGregor). Reporting on violent crimes has escalated (despite declining rates) and so too has the ‘actively damaging’ media representations of crime for Māori (Bull, Chapter 49). Reporting has been progressively racialized, such that Māori are largely reported in negative ways (as protestors, gang members or violent actors); meanwhile, ‘labels such as Māori, Pacific Islander, or Polynesian’ are commonly used in crime reporting, ‘three to four times more than labels such as Pākehā’ (Bull, p741).

Such distortions flow through into our official data that is of ‘suspect’ quality (Bull). Collated statistics give us few truths about offending or harms, and tell us more about the administrative or bureaucratic responses to events that are reported (Payne and Hutton, Chapter 8). For example, crime statistics bundle multiple Pasifika communities together under ‘Pacific’ data, and fail to interpret that most Pasifika offenders are second, third or fourth generations ‘kiwis’ (Tunufa’i, Chapter 12). Under these knowledge conditions, researchers, policy makers and criminal justice practitioners regularly fail to unpack the reality of offending by different groups. And, at times, government agencies have promoted mythical data – arguing, for instance, that 4,000 gang members were responsible for 34% of Class A and Class B drug offences, when the ‘true figure was just 4%’ (Lauchs and Gilbert, Chapter 11: p169). Such narratives flow-through into justice organisations, with the NZ Police embedding organizational crime narrative onto populations (like gangs) that are often reliably disorganized and disconnected.

Amid the sensationalist accounts, a fear-heightened public (along with businesses and government departments) have sought to fill their ‘reassurance gap’ of insecurities. The NZ Police have withdrawn from many areas of policing and there has been a dramatic escalation of private security (Bradley, Chapter 33). At the same time, volunteer citizen-led policing has developed to be a major provider of services for the Ministry of Justice and NZ Police. These new mechanisms often advance policing for resource-rich communities; they also embed significant accountability deficits in dealing with poor standards or misconduct (Bradley). Not that accountability is well established elsewhere – while our police complaints processes have received reformist tweaks following public concerns of the misuse of authority, they still do not enjoy well-resourced, autonomous, fully independent or human rights focused conditions (Buttle and Deckert, Chapter 35).

The bid for enhanced security frames sentencing provisions – highlighted in the introduction of the ‘three strikes’ legislation (Oleson, Chapter 24) and the advanced populism that plagues penal policy. The reasons for New Zealanders’ ontological insecurities are varied: our neo-colonial setting in which ‘outsiders’ are carefully controlled; economic and social restructuring along free market principles; the changing socio-cultural shifts of family life; the decline of religious community; the culture of individual responsibilisation; the public distrust of political party politics and existing democratic processes; and the state’s material and symbolic investment in punishment and imprisonment as a means to ‘do’ power (Pratt, Chapter 23). Our penal policies have facilitated mass incarceration that has fundamentally damaged the nation’s health and well-being, absorbing resources while providing no concomitant increase in public safety. Further, it intensifies social divisions, exacerbates public anxieties, and enhances discrimination (Pratt). Given the numbers of those funneled through our criminal justice system, NZ has become increasingly committed to privatized ventures (Mills, Chapter 31). Despite the moral vagaries of private prisons, their limited accountability, their inability to keep prisoners safe, public distaste, and the Labour Party’s historic opposition to privatized punishments (Mills), the new double-bunking prison at Waikeria will be a public-private partnership (Garrick, 2018). The growth of Criminological research across NZ university settings has not, it seems, corresponded with a substantive ‘evidence-based’ agenda to crime or justice measures (Rodgers and Stenning, Chapter 2).

This insightful, albeit bleak, portrayal is enhanced with eight chapters on ‘Indigenous Perspectives on Crime and Criminal Justice’, six of which (including Bull, mentioned above) focus on the NZ context. Without exception, these chapters explain the ongoing damage wrought on Indigenous people from colonial processes. Historical trauma has rippled across generations in ways that underpin a raft of negative indicators for health, well-being and socio-economic advancement (Waretini-Karena Chapter 46). In this context, Pākehā law, welfare and criminal justice processes have underpinned dispossession, assimilation, control and colonial power (Webb, Chapter 45). The end-results for Māori include being cast as ‘defective people’ (Quince, Chapter 47:716) and being subject to over-policing, abuse, mass incarceration and death.

Indigenous people have, however, continually resisted – advancing campaigns (such as to have tino rangatiratanga recognized), using litigation, and building creative initiatives that (while often ignored by Pākehā) provide useful supports for Indigenous people (for Australian perspectives on these issues, see also Blagg, Chapter 50; Cunneen and Porter, Chapter 44). Nonetheless, even in seemingly benign conditions, Indigenous people are systemically observed, undermined and controlled. For example, Māori culture has been incorporated into state systems in ways that continually work against Māori and ensure their mass incarceration (McIntosh and Workman, Chapter 48). All too often, Māori culture becomes part of the window dressing that Pākehā agencies employ for Treaty obligations (Quince, Chapter 47).

Still, there remains a sense of optimism, determination and clear-sightedness to do things differently. In NZ, rangatahi courts present one step to engage more culturally-responsive approaches to deal with offending by Māori youngsters (Quince). Centred on marae, and invoking tikanga Māori as ‘tools for a pro-social identity, and a framework for functional living’ (Quince, p716), the Courts engage tangata whenua, te reo and meaningful community ‘protocols’ (Quince, p716). They provide a strengths-based approach that reflect Indigenous models of well-being (like Mason Durie’s model of te whare tapa whā) and they are already shown to lower reoffending rates and provide a more welcoming, respectful environment for those who come before them (Quince). They are a useful step towards Indigenous justice practices.

Criminological researchers can also develop strategies to avoid disciplinary complicity in ‘legitimising the status quo’ of misrepresentations and ‘counterproductive policies and practices’ towards Indigenous people (detailed by Australian-based Blagg, Chapter 50: p754). For example, non-Indigenous criminologists can follow ethical guidelines for research. Among other elements, these involve: (i) invoking the participation of Indigenous peoples as peers; (ii) developing meaningful engagement and reciprocity; (iii) ensuring that all research is based on ‘free, prior and informed consent’; (iv) centralizing the respect of Indigenous values, customary obligations and self-determination in research processes; (v) acknowledging Indigenous rights to natural and cultural resources, and to cultural and intellectual property; and, (vi) ensuring that Indigenous people benefit from any research involving them or their interests (Blagg). Indigenous Criminology is ‘by nature, political’ – with a trenchant focus on state crimes and institutions of oppression, it privileges the ‘voice and experience’ of ‘Indigenes, on their terms’ (Tauri, Chapter 51:p778-9). Yet, there remains doubt in whether this work can ever be done within Criminology – as the discipline ‘is not our friend, and nor is it ever likely to be’ (Tauri, p780).

As if to prove the point, the editors follow this ‘call to arms’ for an Indigenous Criminology with a section on ‘Crime Prevention’. Just two of the five chapters in this final Part Six – covering gun laws, alcohol policies, developmental prevention, prison rehabilitation programmes and criminal profiling – give any reference to Indigenous offenders (and this was sweeping). While this certainly demonstrated the diversity of our discipline, it performed the criticism that culturally appropriate responses to indigenous offenders are systemically ignored within criminal justice or preventative practices; it also felt disconnected and dampening in terms of the book’s progression.

The attempt to appeal to diverse audiences is, without doubt, an issue here. This emerged in other ways. For example, the chapters are not always consistent in tenor – some develop introductory overviews of common criminological issues (in a textbook style) while others provide more advanced research on focused topics. There are variations in how contributors engage with the Australian and NZ settings. And, despite the significant scope of chapters, there are omissions – for example, we might have expected chapters on drugs, trafficking, cultural criminology, southern criminology, or a full chapter on critical criminology. Approaching the collection, it is best to focus on the separate works rather than on the whole. Despite these problems, this is still a generous collection – and, at a price of NZ$409 (238 euros) for a hard print copy (or NZ$327 for an e-book), it will need a generous purse, probably from a University librarian.


Department of Justice (1968) Crime in New Zealand Wellington: Government Printer.

Garrick G (2018) ‘Waikeria: Small Prison with Mental Health Unit Announced’, Radio NZ, 13 June 2018. Accessed at:, 3 July 2018.

Glen J E (1969) Crime in New Zealand, book review, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Vol 6, No 1, pp 102-104.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Stanley, Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington, 18 July 2018, for Kotuitui. 

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