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.
It is widely assumed that the so called ‘war on drugs’ (the war between drugs), has been a disastrous failure, and faced with mounting evidence and criticism, governments would eventually seek legislative and policy change.
The evidence presented is largely based upon an analysis of the inability of drug prohibition to reduce the supply and demand for banned substances, supplemented by a critique outlining the widespread harms caused by prohibition. However, with a different agenda and focus, it might be that this ‘evidence’ in terms of the failure to dent supply and demand, has over time (fifty years), become secondary to other government, business and organisational interests.
In the lead-up to the recent NZ election, MP Kelvin Davis announced that Labour will work to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent. The party inherits quite different priorities in government.
There are plans to build an enormous prison complex in Waikato, part of a sweeping $2.5 billion package to expand prison capacity. It is not too late for Labour to scrap this plan in favour of the vision they bring with them to office. But with construction set to begin next year, it would have to happen quickly.
If prisons worked there would be no need to build another one. Consider the network of new prisons that already crisscross New Zealand: Ngawha prison opened in the Far North in 2005, Auckland Women’s in 2006, Spring Hill and Otago prisons in 2007, the remand prison at Mount Eden in 2011, and two years ago, a partnership with multinational Serco on old industrial land in South Auckland.
We could be using these resources to build homes for our people. Yet in the past 20 years, the number of houses owned by the government has fallen from 70,000 to 63,000. Follow the money and the current priorities are clear. The Corrections budget this year is four times that dedicated to Building and Housing. Continue reading Scrapping the mega-prison→
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.
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.
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→
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!
From what I can garner, ACT’s policy was directed at a significant expansion of the literacy and numeracy programme in prison, on the basis of the following principles:
Offenders who complete numeracy and literacy courses in prison, or passed their driving licence test, would have the length of their sentences reduced by up to six weeks a year, with a cap of 18 week’s reduction on a three year sentence – an 11.5% reduction;
Well-educated prisoners who mentored other prisoners would also be eligible for a similar reduction in their sentence;
ACT would make it easier for volunteers to gain approval to carry out this kind of work in prisons;
Decisions on eligibility for the course, would be made by the Parole Board;
The policy would be part of any coalition arrangement with National.
Just as exciting was the thinking behind the proposal. Prisoners needed positive incentives to become productive, law abiding citizens, David Seymour said. Many lacked the skills required to lead normal, productive lives. They needed to take responsibility for their lives, and this policy would provide that incentive. What is more, suitable volunteers and well-educated prisoners would run these programmes at a reasonable cost. Continue reading Disengaging from the ‘Tough on Crime’ Mantra→
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.