Category Archives: Commentaries

Driving Addiction Services Backwards

Photo by Heath Alselke, via Creative Commons

Threats and forcing people further into poverty will make it harder for those with addiction problems to get help.

Well, you can tell there is an election looming, as politicians run around in ever decreasing circles, tightening the noose on some of New Zealand’s most vulnerable people, including beneficiaries who use drugs. Under National’s proposed policy, beneficiaries who refuse to attend drug rehabilitation sessions face having their benefit halved, with many beneficiaries already facing benefit reductions if they fail or refuse to take a drug test.

All highly concerning, given research demonstrates that forced treatment for those with problematic drug use is not helpful, that coercing into treatment those who are not addicted is unethical, and that the most helpful approaches for those who have problems with their drug use are non-judgmental, harm-reduction services such as needle exchanges. These services can also offer pathways into rehabilitation and other support. Continue reading Driving Addiction Services Backwards

Sexual Violence is (or should be) an Election Issue

trigger warning

Last week, I was honoured to represent Wellington Sexual Abuse HELP at the launch of Thursdays in Black Aotearoa’s report, In Our Own Words.  Thursdays in Black is an international student-led movement focused on building a world without rape and violence.

In September and October 2016, Thursdays in Black Aotearoa undertook a nationwide online survey of 1400 tertiary students, asking about their experiences of sexual violence both prior to and during tertiary study; their experiences of sexuality education during secondary study, their access to sexual violence support services at tertiary level, and so much more.

In Our Own Words is a stunning piece of work. While the authors take care to note it is not a prevalence survey, the sample size is large enough to draw some very telling conclusions. Continue reading Sexual Violence is (or should be) an Election Issue

Prescribing Ideology

Picture the scene: A teenager presents with a serious skin complaint. He’s had it for a while, it’s sore and, given how it looks, most people won’t go near him. The doctor, tutting through the appointment, ends up prescribing him heart disease medication and sends him on his way.

The doctor knows that the meds are not going to work. Pharmaceutical trials have shown that these heart drugs are ineffective for his skin condition, and can have multiple side-effects.

Sure enough, a few months later, the teen re-arrives at the surgery. He’s more agitated than before. His skin is hard to look at, even for the doctor. He’s suffering from extreme palpitations, depression, he says he feels angry all the time. Against orders, the boy has taken the decision to come off the medication.

The doctor examines the teen thoroughly. Being the family doctor, she knows that the teen’s mother had this skin complaint, about eight years ago, although it cleared up with topical cream and dietary changes. She decides on further medical interventions. Continue reading Prescribing Ideology

Ignoring Evidence, Rights and Safety

Khylee Quince

What a short memory this government has. This week NZ Justice Minister Amy Adams has unveiled a “serious young offenders” policy that resorts to the age-old chestnuts of militarized boot camps, targeting of parents and negative labelling of children and young people. All of these strategies fit squarely within a “tough on crime” agenda of popular punitiveness – hardly surprising in an election year, but flying in the face of both international research about what works and international standards to which New Zealand is accountable.

The “new” policy is targeted at a purported group of around 150 “serious young offenders” and will allow judges to send up to 50 of them to a boot camp at Waiouru for up to a year. Sound familiar? The National government rolled out the same rhetoric and similar initiatives with its Fresh Start policy for serious young offenders in 2009, including the Military Activity Camps, Court-Supervised Camps and Community Youth Programmes. An evaluation of the Military Activity Camps in 2012 showed a 61% reoffending rate within six months of attending the camp, with 10 offenders committing 126 crimes between them within that six month period. Young people referred to rehabilitation programmes had a 72% six month reoffending rate. There is no local or international evidence that boot camp interventions work, and a lot of evidence that they do not. Continue reading Ignoring Evidence, Rights and Safety

Forgetting Our Rights Obligations?

Has Bill English forgotten that we are signatories of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)? The National Party’s Youth Justice Policy Announcement, released on 13 August 2017, appears to indicate so.

While the focus has so far been on the plan to dispatch young offenders off to boot camp (and that is a dumb idea, mostly because all the international evidence shows that it does not work), I want to call attention to the various ways the policy will remove several basic human rights for young people coming into contact with criminal justice agents, as well as  worsen the disproportionality of young Maori in our youth justice system.

In other words, I want to highlight the extraordinary injustices this policy will bring about, using the Government’s own “three strikes” policy as a framework. And why not, given the Government will be an offender in the eyes of international law, if indeed National is the government after September’s election and this policy is put into effect. Continue reading Forgetting Our Rights Obligations?

Drugs, Stigma and Harms

I am moved to write this commentary by the situation in the Philippines, where the president, Rodrigo Duterte, not only rose to power urging his people to kill drug “addicts”, but has now turned a blind eye, even encouraged, the extra-judicial killings of more than 8000 drug users, their families and friends.

This is a tragedy, not only for those who have been killed, but for human rights advocates and for anyone who uses drugs. How did we arrive at this situation?

The legacy of society’s decades-long (and ineffective) “war on drugs”, coupled with centuries of stereotypes and misinformation about drugs and drug users, has created an intense stigma around people who use drugs, built on a morally laden hysteria often directed at those least able to defend themselves.

We don’t kill drug users in New Zealand but the punishments we do mete out are also born of stigmatisation. Continue reading Drugs, Stigma and Harms

Preventing Prison Violence

A scathing report by the NZ Ombudsmen shows that almost half the prisoners at Hawkes Bay prison have been assaulted during their sentence. Public discussion has centred on mismanagement of the high security unit and lack of a coherent gang strategy at the facility. Yet problems of prison violence stretch well beyond Hawkes Bay. Inspections at three other prisons last year found similar levels of victimization. The rates of assault at Manawatu prison were higher.

When we send people to prison we expose them to violence. It is a normal and expected part of doing time – just ask anyone who has been there. The violence of prisoners is intimately connected to the violence of the institution: to control people inside, prisons unavoidably rely on coercion and physical force. There are 110,000 strip searches a year in our prisons, 300 every day. These violent incidents are not aberrations but a routine part of the daily rounds.  Continue reading Preventing Prison Violence

Decriminalising Sex Work

London SlutWalk, via Wikimedia Commons

Sex work laws are a topic of hot debate in several parts of the world, including the UK. Even policy experts in this area can’t agree on the best way to protect sex workers’ rights. While some advocate the criminalisation of clients, sex worker-led organisations disagree; they say banning the purchasing of sex places sex workers in even more danger. Instead, they are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work – an approach which has been in place in New Zealand since 2003.

Myths abound regarding New Zealand’s model, including unsubstantiated claims that the sex industry has expanded, with pimps emboldened in the wake of the new law, and that sex trafficking is rife. So what do we really know about New Zealand’s policy of decriminalisation? Continue reading Decriminalising Sex Work

Hassling and Shaming Prostitutes is No Solution

Several articles have recently described ongoing tensions between street-based sex workers and other residents in Christchurch.

While street-based sex workers have worked in Christchurch for decades, the major earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 displaced sex workers from their traditional workspace on Manchester Street into more residential areas.

Tensions between street-based sex workers and the communities in which they work are nothing new. Such tensions occur all over the world, in an array of diverse legislative frameworks, including places where sex workers risk significant penalties for working on the street. Despite this, some individuals have called for legal restrictions on street-based sex work as a strategy to stop sex workers from working in residential areas.

We don’t need to look back far in history to understand that repressive laws do not decrease street-based sex work – sex workers worked on the streets in New Zealand prior to decriminalisation when they faced soliciting charges.

In numerous places around the world such as Sweden, the UK, Canada, and the US sex workers continue to work on the streets despite punitive laws which criminalise the selling and/or the purchase of sex. Repressive laws do not inhibit street-based sex work, nor resolve tensions that exist between sex workers and others in their communities. There is no doubt, however, that repressive laws have significant impacts for sex workers. When street-based sex work is restricted, sex workers must work quickly to avoid the attention of authorities. Continue reading Hassling and Shaming Prostitutes is No Solution

The Cultural Imperialism of Australasian Criminology

In a thought-provoking piece on the support her discipline gave to colonialism, Wendy James (1998) refers to anthropologists as ‘reluctant imperialists’, meaning that their support for the colonising enterprise was unplanned or unintentional.  James contends that any support was the result of anthropologists wanting to ‘do good’ by the colonised, and by doing so they inadvertently provided empirical support and intellectual sustenance for the colonial enterprise. Personally, I think that is a load of self-serving rubbish.  However, I am even more reluctant to accept similar arguments on behalf of criminologists, especially those who choose to support the neo-colonial state, who avoid direct engagement with Indigenous peoples, and yet deem to speak with authority on ‘the Aboriginal/Indigenous problem’.

Some Australasian criminologists might consider this position a little harsh. They might even attempt to argue that we should consider the contemporary situation facing the academy, the pressure of increasing class sizes, the continued retrenchment of teaching resources, and the impact of the managerialist movement and the commercialisation of the academy over the past twenty years; all of which has resulted in significant expectation that academics will chase grant and contract funding. Undoubtedly, the recent hegemony attained by academic managerialism has had a demonstrable impact on the academy in New Zealand and Australia, especially as the primary source of external research grants for the social sciences is central government (Tauri, 2009). And so perhaps we shouldn’t be too harsh on our hard-done-by criminologists if all they are doing is chasing the easy money which is, in the Australasian context, research that criminalises Indigenous peoples. Continue reading The Cultural Imperialism of Australasian Criminology

Dangers of Being ‘At Risk’

From Samaritans.org

…Alternative Measures for Suicide Prevention in Prisons

The 2017 report from the Ombudsman investigating the use of physical restraints for prisoners accommodated in At Risk Units (ARUs) has revealed some shocking details about the care of the suicidal in New Zealand prisons. Whilst much of the attention following from the report has understandably focused on the torturous use of tie down beds and wrist restraints, questions remain about the reliance on ARUs in general to accommodate and manage suicidal and self-harming prisoners.

In the last three years more than 700 prisoners have been through these units (McCulloch 2017). In ARUs, prisoners are placed in cells with minimal fixtures, a mattress and an unscreened toilet. In these ‘environments of deprivation’ (Stanley 2017), they are stripped of their usual clothing, given an untearable gown and bedding, and placed under 24-hour camera observation. Interaction with others, including staff, is highly limited.

Corrections protocol states that prisoners in ARUs should ‘have the same opportunities for involvement in prison activities as other prisoners, consistent with maintaining their safety and the safety of others’ (Ombudsman 2017:12). However, the Ombudsman team ‘found no evidence of at-risk prisoners taking part in any form of structured activity or intervention’ (2017:14) or engaging in strategies to manage and address their self-harm or suicidal thoughts. In only one case did ‘at risk’ plans contain referrals to other services such as chaplaincy or social workers. Although a stay in an ARU is supposed to be a temporary measure, in practice prisoners can be accommodated there for several months (National Health Committee 2010).

In other jurisdictions, these ‘strip cells’ as they are often known, have been widely recognised as unsuitable and inhumane accommodation for suicidal prisoners. Continue reading Dangers of Being ‘At Risk’

Rape and Patriarchy

By Hughillustration, via Wikimedia Commons

Last week in Wellington saw two incidents from separate schools in which teenage boys demonstrated their entitlement to make sexually derogatory comments about girls and women on Facebook pages.

Some of those seeking to explain the boys’ behaviour have sought to minimise their culpability by claiming these were boys with good values who must just be joking.

The “can’t you take a joke” refrain features as a key display item in the women’s movement’s museum of feminist backlash memorabilia.

Rape is no joking matter. It is profoundly disturbing that boys in 2017 might consider it still to be so. How do we explain the fact that boys whose entire lives have been lived in what some would term a post-feminist era come to not only hold such views but seek peer esteem through sharing them?

There are many clues to this so-called mystery. The most useful starting point lies in acknowledging the tenacity of the patriarchal footprint on our culture. Continue reading Rape and Patriarchy

64 Drug Policy Myths

Have you been lying to us about drugs?

Drug law and policy has its roots in fear, ignorance, racism and vested interest and sadly, little has changed over the decades. Drug discourse continues to be shaped more by punitive populism, isolated tragic incidents and moral crusades, rather than scientific evidence, reason and rationality.

To encourage mainstream critical debate on these issues, I’ve tried to uncover and highlight the key myths, lies and misconceptions, which underpin, shape and inform dominant drug policy thinking. Unless we expose these flawed notions, fallacies and beliefs that infest our drugs discourse, drug reform risks reproducing further misguided drug policies and practices. Although the points are made in a punchy and accessible style, each one is carefully considered and can be academically supported – but that’s for another day – or a book!

Continue reading 64 Drug Policy Myths

Dehumanising Treatment as ‘Risk Prevention’

Tie Down Bed, Auckland Prison (Ombudsman, 2017:22)

In NZ, At Risk Units hold prisoners who are ‘at risk’ of suicide or self-harm. They are environments of deprivation. In 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office reported daily routines of long prisoner lockdowns in ‘bleak’ and ‘grim’ conditions (2016a, 2016b). ARU prisoners are usually locked in a barren cell for up to 23 hours a day. Clothed in anti-rip gowns, they are watched via camera all the time, including when they use their in-cell toilet.

In an unannounced visit to Otago, the Ombudsman found an ARU prisoner who was held ‘in a waist restraint with his hands cuffed behind his back…due to his self-harming’ (Ombudsman, 2016c:17). Over two and a half months, the man had spent at least 21 hours a day in the restraint:

He was un-cuffed every two hours during the day and every four hours at night in order to stretch his muscles, take a shower or eat his meals (average three hours unlock a day). He was able to watch some TV in his cell from late afternoon” (Ombudsman, 2016c:18).

There was ‘no evidence of therapeutic intervention or psychological support…having taken place’ for this prisoner or any other in the Unit (Ombudsman, 2016c:18). Continue reading Dehumanising Treatment as ‘Risk Prevention’

Constructing Rape

What can the Scott Kuggeleijn rape case teach us about how we think about sexual violence?

New Zealanders love sport. Cricket and rugby are two sports in particular that are afforded considerable status and occupy a position of national prominence. However, while our professional athletes are revered for their impressive sporting talents, they don’t always all behave in exemplary ways, as some of the evidence presented in the recent trial of Cricketer Scott Kuggeleijn suggests.

The acquittal of Kuggeleijn on rape charges and the discourse surrounding the trial reveals a lot about how we think about sexual violence, the narratives that frame our societal understanding of it, and raises important questions for the future if we are to move toward a safer society for women in particular. Continue reading Constructing Rape