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

Asylum, Gendered Harms and Structural Violence

Resisting the Spiral of Silence

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

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

Reducing Prison Numbers

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

Pills, Thrills, Bellyaches…

 

… 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…

Ontopower

A Review of Brian Massumi’s Ontopower: War, Powers and the State of Perception (Duke University Press, 2015). 306pp. Paperback $24.95.

The preface to Massumi’s book invites the reader to consider starting at the end. It is a fitting exhortation in a book that examines a temporal twist coined ‘ontopower’. Temporal tautologies are used as headings throughout the book including ‘futures past’ (190), ‘fast forward on rewind’ (197) and, my favourite, ‘smoke of future fires’ (202). I am particularly partial to the latter because it points to Massumi’s ‘unabashedly metaphysical’ approach (205). Massumi situates ontopower “in a field of action with other regimes of power”, arguing that “it is necessary to adopt an ecological approach to threat’s environmental power” (200).

The newly consolidated mode of power that is ontopower pivots on the ‘singular time signature’ (200) of preemption, which “denotes acting on the time before: before it has emerged as a clear and present danger” (vii). The first chapter begins with former US President George W. Bush’s oft quoted rationale for the invasion of Iraq: “[i]f we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long. We must take the battle to the enemy, disrupt his plans and confront the worst threats before they emerge” (3). Massumi maintains, however, that “although the exemplary events through which this operative logic [of preemption] is evaluated in the book are, for the most part, historically moored in the Bush administration, the power curve they express exceeds it” (221). He argues that preemption “is an operative logic of power defining a political epoch in as infinitely space-filling and insidiously infiltrating way as the logic of the ‘deterrence’ defined as the Cold War era” (5).

From the outset the vast scope and challenge of Massumi’s project are clear. The first hint at how we might understand the operative logic of this new entrant into the ecology of powers is the word ‘ontopower’ itself. ‘Onto’ means being. Preemption is productive. It brings the future into being as it “trace[s] itself out as a self-propelling tendency” (5). Continue reading Ontopower

Trafficking Culture in New Zealand and Beyond

In 1972, in a swamp near Motunui, Taranaki, a local man discovered five buried wooden carved panels, removed them to his home, and subsequently sold them to a visiting English antiquities dealer for NZ$6,000. The dealer illegally took them out of New Zealand, ignoring the requirement to apply for an export permit, which he surely would not have received.

In New York in 1973, he sold the panels to the famous collector George Ortiz for US$65,000. Ortiz shipped the panels back to his home in Geneva. A stipulation of this dodgy deal was that Ortiz was not allowed to show the panels to any New Zealand archaeologists for a period of two years following the sale: enough time presumably for any heat to have begun to die down, or so it might be thought. In fact these were the ‘Motunui Panels’, which since the 1970s have been the subject of an ongoing debate that has only recently come to a resolution. They are thought to have originally lined the walls of a pātaka, and were speculated to have been deliberately buried in the swamp for safekeeping by Te Āti Awa around the time of a battle at Motunui in 1822. Continue reading Trafficking Culture in New Zealand and Beyond

Visual Victimology and Veterans

Vicky Hart (2013) ‘Remembrance Sunday’. Flickr.

[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