Tag Archives: Politics

Royal Commission as State Protection?

The Royal Commission into Historical Abuse was fully launched this week. With skilled Commissioners at the helm, there is much to like about this new body.

The headline news was that the Commission would expose the abuse in faith-based institutions alongside that in state care placements. The Bishops came out to demonstrate their support. Let us all hope that they will still be ‘standing up to be counted’ when the concerns of apologies, compensation and institutional changes are recommended over the next few years.

The Commission now has an extensive remit, and rightly so. The experiences of those abused in foster care, adoption placements, children’s homes, state residences, borstals, psychiatric hospitals, disability facilities, health camps, early childhood facilities, state schools, special residential schools, teen parent units, police cells, court cells and even places of transport between care settings will all be examined.

Alongside children and young people, ‘vulnerable adults’ (such as those who have mental health problems or disabilities) will have their abuse recognised.

The Commission will also be able to uncover the structural, systemic and practical factors that contributed to abuse, and tell us about the impacts on victims but also their families, whānau, hapū, iwi and communities, including how the trauma of abuse crosses over generations.

So much of this is commendable. It has the potential to change the way we think about many social problems – crime, mental health, family breakdowns, state interventions.

Yet, amid the fanfare, there is a creeping feeling of state self-protection. A few months ago, I had a conversation with a senior government worker on the draft Terms for this Commission. He happily remarked ‘We missed a bullet there!’  And, today, I am sure that many senior civil servants and politicians are feeling quietly comfortable at the confirmation that the Commission will not have any great impact on them or their institutional operations. Continue reading Royal Commission as State Protection?

Who Are the Victims?

Kim Workman

When Verna McFelin founded Pillars over 25 years ago, no one recognised that the children of prisoners were victims of crime – ten times more likely to end up in prison, than the children of non-prisoners. Social services made no special provision for the children, who today number around 23,000. Verna changed that conversation through her advocacy for the rights of children, and developing best practice to prevent inter-generational offending.

…Last week, 700 people met to discuss criminal justice reform. Public servants, criminal justice professionals, gang members, victims, ex-prisoners, police and corrections officials, academics and politicians. The discussions were diverse, and covered a range of perspectives. But when Jayne Crothall whose daughter was murdered in 1993 took the floor it became instant headlines. It was a heart-rending story of brutality. In her view, victims had been ‘frozen out’ of the Summit. The media made headlines of her concerns, but in doing so failed to inform the public that three of the Justice Minister’s Justice Advisory Group had a special expertise in victims’ interests, that a special session on victim’s issues had been facilitated by the Chief Victim’s Adviser Dr Kim McGregor at the Summit, and that two teenagers had testified about the impact of domestic violence on their mother. In addition, every prisoner who spoke, described horrendous physical and sexual abuse suffered as children.

When Jayne’s comments were reinforced by National’s Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell, news release, who claimed that “Andrew Little’s attitude showed he was firmly on the side of offenders and didn’t want to know about victims of crime,” it was game over. As they say in the media, ‘what bleeds, leads”. There was no mention in the media that Jayne had met with her daughter’s murderer to help him through his healing journey. That part of the story didn’t fit their purpose.

I don’t blame Mark Mitchell for playing the ‘victims’ vs ‘offenders’ game – It is a political tactic that has served successive governments over the last thirty years, it is a critical part of the ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric – but it needs to stop. Continue reading Who Are the Victims?

Legalising cannabis

Creative Commons, Jurassic Blueberries

I started 2018 with an unmistakable sense of optimism – after years of procrastinating and avoiding the evidence, the Government was going to hold a referendum on legalising cannabis by 2020. Could this be the beginning of an exciting new era of drug policy and drug law reform? Where policy was evidence based, where the harms from drug use could be effectively addressed, and where the damage from criminalisation could be stopped?

Imagine my despondency at Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s announcement that she will not yet commit to legalising cannabis, even if the public vote for it in the referendum. I feel cheated. I am also concerned that the referendum is going to be brought forward to next year, to avoid it affecting the election campaign in 2020, with no hint of the necessary public information campaign to properly support the referendum.

My biggest fear is that the whole thing will end up being a rushed, misinformed, ill-thought-through debacle, and we will have missed a really important chance to make a difference; to respond to drug use and drug users differently and more effectively; to stop the harms related to underground markets and criminalisation.  Prohibition of drugs has not stopped people using or having problems with them.

Here’s what I hope, though. Continue reading Legalising cannabis

Unconscious Bias, NZ Police and Bullshit

This commentary deals with two recent issues that arose in relation to the New Zealand Police (NZ Police): the first is the recent ‘confession’ of the Police Commissioner that some members of the NZ Police suffered from ‘unconscious bias’, and the second is the decision by officials at NZ Police National Headquarters to designate researcher and criminologist Jarrod Gilbert as ‘unsuitable’ for carrying out research because of his gang associations.

The New Zealand Police, Bias, Racism and Bullshit

Humbug: deceptive misrepresentation, short of lying, especially by pretentious word or deed, of somebody’s own thoughts, feelings, or attitudes.

                                                                                                                                Max Black (1982)

According to the American philosopher Harry Frankfurt (2005: 1) “[o]ne of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this.  Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted”. I agree entirely with Professor Frankfurt’s summation of just how much bullshit is spread around, except to add the caveat that some of us contribute a whole lot more bullshit to the pile that invariably washes over the social context. Continue reading Unconscious Bias, NZ Police and Bullshit

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

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

E Kore Ano, Never Again!

The Open Letter to Prime Minister Bill English, calling for an independent inquiry to deal with abuse of children under state care, has been steadfastly downplayed by the government. ‘E Kore Ano, Never Again!’ is the rallying call from the Human Rights Commission and its supporters. ‘Nah’ came the reply. Elizabeth Stanley tackles the government’s reasons for refusal. Continue reading E Kore Ano, Never Again!

More Prison Beds not the Answer…

Photo: Matthias Muller. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.
Photo: Matthias Muller. Republished under a Creative Commons licence.

Lessons from Youth Justice

In October 2016, the NZ government announced plans to spend a billion dollars on more prison beds. They say it’s needed to cope with forecast rises in the prison muster – as if increases were a force of nature, like a storm or earthquake. As Finance Minister Bill English put it: “this is something that has to be done. We have to provide the capacity. We’d certainly prefer to be in a position where this wasn’t happening…”

But there is nothing inevitable about building more prisons. We have already opened five in a decade and doubled the number of beds, and the system is filled to overflowing.

It’s time to start making different choices. Continue reading More Prison Beds not the Answer…

Prisons: Places of Harm and Dehabilitation

Dr David Scott
Dr David Scott

On the 4th October UK Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, delivered her speech Prisons: places of safety and reform to the 2016 Conservative Party Conference. For Truss the UK ‘justice system’ is “incorruptible” and “the best in the world”. If we follow the principles of meritocracy, it will become a “justice system of all talents” that “works for everyone” providing “justice for all”. Although Truss digresses away from prisons (to talk about the courts and a new Bill of British Rights) her central arguments focus on how the Conservative government is “going to make prisons work”. Sadly her speech is nothing but the same old story, harking back to the “making prisons work” rhetoric employed by Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw in 1997, as well as regurgitating an idea with a 200 year record of abject failure. Continue reading Prisons: Places of Harm and Dehabilitation