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 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.
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.
In recent years, politicians and senior public service managers, while openly acknowledging the differential between Māori and non-Maori, have resisted the idea that there is any deliberate ethnic bias, or evidence of personal racism in the system.
There is general agreement that adverse early-life experiences, and social and environmental factors contribute significantly to high Māori, which in turn impact on offending patterns. However, while there is evidence of structural discrimination within the criminal justice system, and allegations of personal racism, there is a general reluctance to conduct research into these areas. The absence of research thus enables politicians and senior public servants to deny that such issues exist, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary.
The idea of systemic bias within the criminal justice system has been resisted by government agencies over recent years. When the Hon Dr Pita Sharples, Co-Leader of the Māori Party, launched the party’s Justice Policy on 1 October 2011, he spoke about the structural discrimination against Māori within the criminal justice system in general, and the Police in particular. There was an expected public backlash against the comments and, when invited to comment, Rethinking Crime and Punishment issued a media release citing research which supported Dr Sharple’s view. Dr Sharples was interviewed on Q and A on the 9 Oct. On the 14th October, Commissioner Peter Marshall came to the defence of his staff in an interview on Te Karere. He did not agree there was a racial bias in Police dealings with Maori.
The issue was vigorously discussed on talkback radio, and most of the comment supported the Commissioner’s position. Some commentators reproached Dr Sharples for his claims, and the then Minister of Police, the Hon Judith Collins, publicly chastised him for being ‘out of order’. Continue reading Structural Discrimination→
Private security, in one form or another, has become a pervasive feature of everyday life. But, our increasing reliance on private security has not been matched with high standards or good practice. In April 2011, the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Act (2010) [‘the Act’] sought to change that in New Zealand, by replacing an obsolete regulatory framework first introduced over three decades ago.
The NZ Associate Minister of Justice announced that the Act would achieve ‘high industry standards’ and reduce ‘the significant risk of harm’ (Guy, 2010). The New Zealand Security Association (NZSA) described it as an important step in ‘raising professionalism’ and ‘driving out poor quality operations’ (Newman, 2014: 10). This new regulation covered more security operatives, including crowd controllers/door supervisors (‘bouncers’) and personal (body) guards. To ensure compliance, the government established a new ‘dedicated’ Licensing Authority (PSPLA) and enforcement agency (CIPU), while increasing penalties for unlicensed operators.
Of all of the changes, politicians saw that Mandatory Training (MT) was most likely to improve industry standards. Introduced in October 2013, MT was imposed on those ‘public facing’ personnel most likely to be involved in physical confrontations that could inflict and/or sustain physical injury. Associate Minister of Justice, Chester Burrows, claimed MT would ‘ensure security personnel have the skills to work safely and effectively’ and that ‘those employed to protect us would be suitably qualified’ (Burrows, 2013).
In 2008, the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) brought a federal lawsuit – Al Shimari v. CACI . This lawsuit addresses the torture of four Iraqi men, held in Abu Ghraib prison during 2003-2004, by the private contractor CACI International Inc. and CACI Premier Technology Inc. The case is the last Abu Ghraib case in the system and, if it goes to trial, will be heard in the midst of the Trump Presidency.
The CCR assert “that CACI directed and participated in illegal conduct, including torture, at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq where it was hired by the U.S. to provide interrogation services”. The case covers violations of US and international law – including war crimes, sexual assaults and tortures.
The four victims – Suhail Najim Abdullah Al Shimari; Taha Yaseen Arraq Rashid; Asa’ad Hamza Hanfoosh Zuba’e; Salah Hasan Nusaif Al-Ejaili – were all released without ever being charged of any crime. They all continue to suffer mental and physical injuries from their torture that included electric shocks, food deprivation, being threatened by dogs, stress positions, beatings, sexual assaults, sensory deprivation, and being kept naked.
At the heart of this book is an aim to address systemic and structural oppressions which facilitate violence against women, but also which socially hinder the wellbeing of people seeking asylum more generally once they have reached relative safety. Ultimately, I am arguing that the British asylum system is structurally harmful in that it is built to regulate, control and dehumanise those who pass through its processes and whose lives depend on its policies.
There is no one aspect that is singularly harmful – not detention, not destitution – but a culmination of procedures which reduce or eradicate autonomy, produce existential banality, and ultimately cause further emotional, physical and relational harms to survivors of violence and persecution. Importantly, many of these processes mirror or are mirrored in the global arena of securitisation and border controls, and expansion rather than reduction is increasingly the main objective of states and nations across the world. Continue reading Asylum, Gendered Harms and Structural Violence→
Despite the evidence against the effectiveness of prisons to reduce reoffending, and the Prime Minister’s assertion that prisons remain a ‘moral and fiscal failure’, there is still no government strategy or goal to limit their use, and reduce the prison population.
In 2015, Rethinking Crime and Punishment (RCP) examined why prisons have sustained for so long in NZ. They also considered strategies of other nations to limit the use of prisons and to reinvest resources in more effective ways of reducing crime and social harm. Continue reading Reducing Prison Numbers→
… The effects of criminalising a ‘legal high’ in Aotearoa New Zealand
The 21st Century development of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) has offered useful opportunities to think about the meaning of recreational drug taking, as it is now carried out on a grand scale. NPS are synthetic or naturally occurring substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, amphetamines and ecstasy.
The consumption of these different ‘legal highs’ has brought into sharp relief what Parker et al. (1998) previously termed the ‘normalisation’ of recreational drug use. These scholars referred to the consumption of illegal drugs, such as amphetamines and ecstasy, by increasing numbers of young people during the 1990s. However, the emergence and growing popularity of new psychoactive substances has served to further illustrate the argument that ‘recreational drug taking’ is now mainstream. It is rational and informed drug taking behaviour by young people, used for specific leisure activities such as dancing and clubbing, rather than being marginalised and deviant. Continue reading Pills, Thrills, Bellyaches…→
[V]isual victimology draws attention to the visualisation of real and/or imagined victims and victimisation. It recognises and acknowledges that representations of victims “entail more than those resultant from crime as encompassed in the criminal law” (Corteen, 2016, p. 268). Visual victimology is an invitation to, and an analytical tool for, the exploration of victims of crime and zemiological victims – that is victims of social harm. Walklate et al. (2014) draw attention to the role of visual victimology in revealing the power of the image in the legitimation and delegitimation of victims. Similarly, visual victimology enables an investigation of the manner in which victims of crime and social harm are “articulated, rearticulated and dearticulated” (Corteen, 2016, p. 268).
Media and Representations
Central to representations, visual and otherwise, is the media, especially news media in all its manifestations. McQuail (2010) rightly discusses the heterogeneity of the media in that there is no one format, purpose or agenda. Rather the media is a global, developing and growing, multi-faceted industry that is complex, contradictory and contested. There are disputes and disagreements regarding intended and received media messages, visual or otherwise. There is, however, some agreement. For example, theorists such as Cavender (2004), Marsh and Melville (2009) and Jewkes (2015) contend that the media is a significant communicative tool that plays an increasing important function in contemporary societies…It plays an important role in ideological struggles and setting agendas. Cavender (2004, p. 336) comments that the media “help define what we think about, what we see as problems and the solutions we consider”. Continue reading Visual Victimology and Veterans→
After at least 40 years of prevarication and debate, the United Nations Human Rights Council is finally developing a new treaty designed to hold corporations accountable for their human rights violations. There is a long way to go before this treaty is agreed since, as Stefanie Khoury and David Whyte’s new book, Corporate Human Rights Violations, shows, the process has a long and fractious history. The book develops an analysis of the historical, political and legal contexts behind international demands for binding mechanisms for corporate accountability and argues that those demands are characterised by a constant tension between the neo-colonial politics of the Global North and the post-colonial politics of the Global South that date back to the 1960s.
In order to analyse the prospects for using human rights law to challenge the impunity with which corporations author human rights violations, the book explores the uses of tort law to deal with transnational corporate human right violations in domestic courts, the uses of human rights law at the European Court of Human Rights and at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the efforts of the OECD process to provide redress for corporate human rights abuses. The book finds strong empirical evidence that those mechanisms do not offer a meaningful challenge to corporate power, but ultimately support the dominant right of corporations to accumulate profit un-interrupted. Continue reading Corporate Violations→
In the wake of 9/11, contemporary Islamophobia has become globalised, especially in the ‘West’. In turn, ‘a global stock of clichés, stereotypes and folk myths about the Muslim ‘Other’’ are frequently drawn upon to inform common sense about local circumstances and local events. These processes can underpin ‘a seemingly never-ending series of moral panic spirals in which the perceived deviance of Muslims is amplified’.
…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).