Category Archives: Research and Publications

Changing the Lens

There are a variety of gangs in New Zealand, with indigenous ethnic gangs making up the majority in terms of membership. While there has been a growth in the number and visibility of ‘youth gangs’ over the past decade, these groups are generally part of a wider landscape of families and communities with intergenerational gang membership and high levels of poverty, unemployment, poor educational engagement and poorly resourced neighbourhoods.

International researchers note little reliable empirical data about ‘gangs’, who belongs to them, and what they do, and New Zealand is no exception. The lack of quantifiable information arises from the well-recognized problem with defining a ‘gang’, the rapid change in levels of membership and activity particularly in youth gangs, and the lack of engagement with government agencies by families and communities associated with gangs – hence, limited administrative data. Continue reading Changing the Lens


Dr Bruce Cohen

…Māori Resistance and the Continuance of Colonial Psychiatry in Aotearoa New Zealand

Before the 1950s, Māori were considered a relatively mentally healthy population. However, current statistics show that they are much more likely to experience a ‘mental illness’ and be admitted to psychiatric hospital compared to settler groups. This article, by Bruce Cohen, argues for an understanding of the mental health system as a site of colonial hegemony in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Cohen demonstrates that the increased urbanization of Māori from the 1960s brought about a political consciousness and visibility which frightened Pākehā society. This, in turn, led to a change in general perceptions of the colonized, from being a passive population to an aggressive one.

Between the 1960s and 1980s, colonial psychiatry began to pathologize a politically conscious Māori population – categorizing Māori protest as constituting the ‘symptoms’ of various forms of ‘mental illness’ (particularly psychotic illness) while ignoring social, economic or cultural issues. This psychiatric process of normalizing colonial rule while pathologizing Indigenous resistance has been found in many other sites of colonial authority. In Aotearoa NZ, the outcomes are extremely high rates of psychiatric diagnosis and incarceration of Māori. Continue reading Passive-Aggressive

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

Public Criminology: Fergus McNeill Video

Prof Fergus McNeill

Here’s a link to the second video from the VUW public criminology conference.

This one is Prof Fergus McNeill from SCCJR at the University of Glasgow talking about his desistance research, in particular in relation to his experiences working with criminal justice institutions and the role of academic research in the dialogue around policy and practice


Public Criminology: Tim Newburn Video

Prof Tim Newburn

Last week the Institute of Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington hosted the fourth annual NZ criminology symposium. The theme was public criminology. Several academics recorded videos for us, reflecting on some of the themes covered.

Prof Tim Newburn from the LSE talked about his project ‘Reading the Riots’ undertaken in collaboration with the Guardian newspaper.

The video is available to view on the Criminology Collective FaceBook page. Click here to be transported at hyper-link-speed to that very place!

Workplace Drug Testing

ProjectManhattan, via Wikimedia Commons

Workplace Drug Testing (WDT) has been around since the 1990s in New Zealand. Initially focused on those working in forestry, fishing, shipping and mining, testing was rolled out to dairy and meat industries, transportation, roading and construction in the 2000s. The practice has always been mired in controversy.

In 2004, Air New Zealand won an Employment Court case for the right to drug test their workers. Since then, tens of thousands have encountered workplace tests. The repercussions for those who test positive – warnings, ‘rehabilitation’ programmes, social vilification or dismissal – can be significant. As part of Criminology Honours study, Emma Sherwood undertook research on these contentious practices, and discovered results that questioned their legitimacy. Continue reading Workplace Drug Testing

Criminalising Muslim Minorities

Photo by David Holt, 5 May 2014. Via Creative Commons.

Following Post-war immigration to many Anglophone countries (the UK, Australia, and elsewhere) ‘othered’ immigrants have encountered common expectations to assimilate, and prove it. A failure or refusal to integrate has, historically, been viewed as deviant. However, this has been tempered by notions of cultural pluralism and official multiculturalism in recent years.

At critical junctures, however, the demands to ‘integrate’ become ever more present. Research, by Waqas Tufail and Scott Poynting, demonstrates how young British Muslims have become the subject of ‘increasingly oppressive assimilationist and socially controlling forms of integrationism’. Continue reading Criminalising Muslim Minorities

Penal Populism: The End of Reason

By Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

Penal populism is a much discussed characteristic of punishment. Many commentators reflect upon penal populism in relation to localized events, presuming that they may be diagnosed, theorised and exorcised there.

In this article, John Pratt (Professor in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington) and Michelle Miao (Assistant Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong) demonstrate that penal populism has provided the base for a much more extensive populism through modern societies. Penal populism has provided a springboard for wider populist forces to flourish in mainstream society, so much so that, in the early 21st Century, populism has ‘burst out of the constraints of the penal zone and pervade[d] the whole social body’. Continue reading Penal Populism: The End of Reason

Nothing to See Here

1471916183886The refusal to mount an independent inquiry on behalf of those who suffered horrendous physical, sexual and psychological abuse in state care is staggering.

This morning the prime minister, John Key, has joined his social development minister, Anne Tolley, in defending the government’s approach to victims of horrendous physical, sexual and psychological abuse. They are sticking to the plan: victims of state-institutional abuse should confidentially engage with the Ministry of Social Development, waive their entitlement to legal rights, and gratefully receive an individual apology for the horrors against them. For those who might empathise with the ongoing public disclosures of historic and contemporary abuse emanating from institutions across the ditch, rest assured: there’s Nothing To See Here.

If only that were the case. In my book, The Road to Hell, 105 New Zealanders tell their stories of being placed under state care and held in welfare residences. Representing just a fraction of the experiences of more than 100,000 children who progressed through these institutions from the 1950s to the 1990s, their testimonies are chilling. Continue reading Nothing to See Here

Legal Highs



Legal highs have become increasingly popular in New Zealand as well as globally. Established as a way to experiment with substances without getting the hangover of an arrest or conviction, the market in legal highs – such as BZP-PPs and synthetic cannabis – has grown rapidly.

In this article, Fiona Hutton, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at VUW, explores how the NZ legislation that attends to ‘legal highs’, ‘party pills’ or new psychoactive substances (NSPs) has been led by moral populism. As she says ‘This term, in part, refers to the idea that drug policy and law-making are firmly stuck in the past, wedded to outdated notions of both drug harms and drug users’ (p.30). Our guiding legislation was developed over 40 years ago.

Given the massive changes in knowledge about substance use, or the socio-cultural shifts over the interim period, it seems bizarre that drug legislation has not been updated. This is even more puzzling when we consider that most mainstream responses to drug use – such as the ‘war on drugs’ – have clearly not worked to curb drug use or sales.

Continue reading Legal Highs

Representations of Drinking Women

Photo: Edwin Land. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.
Photo: Edwin Land. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

The subject of women’s drinking is often high on the political and media agenda. The majority of mainstream discourse appears to be highly moralistic in tone. Press articles are accompanied by photographs of women, scantily dressed and either slumped with sickness or in aggressive poses. Their situation is often remarked upon as an indicator of the decline in New Zealand’s values and social norms.

Sarah Wright, a Lecturer at VUW’s Institute of Criminology, has regularly examined the relationship between the media and understandings of crime (or, rather, misunderstandings about crime) and the policy implications of these misunderstandings. In this article, recently published in the journal ‘Continuum’, she examines how the NZ media represents women’s drinking and considers the impact of these discursive trends. Continue reading Representations of Drinking Women