Sunday, 16 December 2018

Reducing Our Prison Population - Past Failures and New Approaches

The following blog is based on notes from a presentation given as part of the University of Wollongong Tauranga campuses public lecture series for 2018:

Earlier this year the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little announced the latest in what has been, since the late 1980s, a long line of reviews, tax payer-funded summits and inter-agency, ‘whole-of-government’ projects aimed at making the criminal justice system work more efficiently and effectively. 

Officially launched at a summit held in Porirua in October, the stated aim of the review is to reduce New Zealand’s prison muster by 30 percent over the next 15 years.  And a specific focus of the review is on the significant over-representation of Maori in the prison population specifically, and in the criminal justice system overall.

This presentation represents a modest offering in response to the current government’s attempt to make the justice system more effective, and just.

Before I move into the main part of my presentation, I want to say something about the focus and intent of my commentary:

There are two key themes that both run thru my presentation and join the elements together:

The policy sector/political class has had the lead for decades in developing and implementing responses to social harm.  It is fair to say that its impact has been mixed, with as many failures as successes, although given the lack of independent scrutiny of its activities, this is a subjective proposition I make, rather than an empirical one.  However, regardless of its many failures, it is a necessary part of any attempt we make to reduce the prison population, and so reform of the policy sector and the political context of crime control policy development is an absolute must if we are to meet the 30% reduction target set by Minister Little.

Any substantive move to reduce the prison population requires a significant increase in the role of communities, including community-based service providers, in the development and delivery of policies and interventions.  The days of the wholesale importation of policies and interventions from other high crime jurisdictions need to be a thing of the past.


Overview of Past Attempts to Review Criminal Justice

By way of background and to add context to my commentary, it is based on 10 years working in the policy sector, the majority spent analysing crime control policy), and some 15 years carrying out research on crime control in settler-colonial jurisdictions.

I will use examples and case studies gleamed from my policy and research experience to a) highlight reasons why we have failed to arrest the rate of imprisonment, to reduce the harm that occurs in our communities, and to eradicate bias and racism within the criminal justice system, and b) evidence my key argument for a significant overhaul of the policy industry and the political classes’ influence on crime control policy, without which any significant reduction in crime, social harm and use of imprisonment is impossible.

Failures and Examples
When I arrived at Corrections in early 2001, the agency was in the process of implementing the Integrated Offender Management (IOM) initiative.  Imported more or less wholesale from Canada, IOM was intended to streamline the delivery of prison-based services to inmates to ensure their 'sentence plans' matched their 'criminogenic needs', such as anger management and alcohol and drug dependency.

The importation of IOM provides a case study that encapsulates all that is wrong with the crime control policy sector in New Zealand:

It was evident that senior management was hell-bent in introducing the process, regardless of criticism or dissent: For that reason ‘consultation’ with internal and external stakeholders was superficial, a tick-the-box exercise. I personally attended 3 so-called consultations, and read the reports written thereafter, in each one any criticism or difficult question had been either not included, or re-worded to enable the department of answer from a pre-conceived suite of answers.

The importation exercise involved liberal use of what is most accurately called the orientalisation of the social context with regards the potential impact of the process on Maori.  Orientalisation here refers to the tendency of the policy sector to justify importing policies and interventions on the basis that they 'work for African Americans' so will work for other people of colours, like Maori. 

The hegemony of policy-based evidence: a few years after the implementation of IOM and its suite of criminogenic interventions, time came for the analysis and release of the first tranche of outcome-based data, meaning the impact of the programmes on recidivism.  The results were, to say the least, not what the department had predicted.  For some interventions – such as Straight Thinking - Maori who did not attend had lower recidivism rates than those that did.  The ‘report’ was suddenly taken from the primary author to be ‘edited’, due to the poor results of the programmes.

The implementation  of IOM by Corrections highlights a number of failings across the criminal justice sector that explains its poor record of impacting crime rates, a number of which I will return to throughout this presentation namely that:

The propensity for the sector to rely on importing crime control policies and interventions from other high crime, western jurisdictions.

Retrofitting crime control policies and processes to the New Zealand context without the requisite engagement and research work required to ensure effectiveness and ‘fit’.

An aversion by the major criminal justice agencies to admit mistakes, release information that does not portray them in a good light.

An unwillingness to trust the ‘community’ here to assist in development effective responses to social harm.

Science and Evidence-Based Policy are Not King
The rise of IOM coincided with a revolution within many of the crime control agencies wherein 'science' and 'evidence' became the basis of policy-making, the development of interventions, and allocation of resources.  At least that is what the policy sector told itself and the public from the early 2000s onwards.  

Quite often this was not the case, with pertinent evidence being totally ignored, or the evidence that suits a predetermined policy outcome favoured over the messy stuff, like evidence that contradicts a Cabinet Minister's pet project, or that highlights the negative impact of government’s social and economic policy.

A recent, classic example of policy implementation that ignored available evidence was the government's decision to introduce boot camps.  No firm evidence existed to indicate that this intervention would result in positive outcomes for youth, but it was implemented regardless.  Why? Well, there are a number of reasons but in this particular case the answers are 'populist politics' and 'ideology'.

To understand how such a poorly performing crime control intervention could be introduced, you have to ignore the rhetoric that New Zealand's policy sector is apolitical (as in neutral) and that policy decisions are based on scientifically-derived evidence.  

This is often not the case in the crime control sector. The introduction of boot camps was purely ideological - of the 'get tough on crime and bring back military-style discipline for those young thugs' type you will often hear in RSA bars; the 'a good thrashing never did me any harm' approach to social policy. 

To their credit Ministry of Justice officials provided their Minister with a thorough briefing, one that highlighted the lack of evidence that the intervention would in fact, reduce youth offending.  The Minister moved forward with the policy, simply noting that he had “received, but not read the briefing”.  Let me repeat that, he had “received but not read” a briefing.  I will come back to this ‘attitude’ soon.

 I wish to be clear about one thing - sometimes evidence has a significant impact on policy development and implementation.  My argument here is sometimes it does not.  The policy process can be, and often is, highly political and ideological, with interventions and policies influenced as much by who a Minister was drinking with last week, as it is on independent, empirical evidence.  So in this example, this case study, we see the impact on crime control policy, of ideology, of political ideology, of the need to secure votes, resulting in tax payer’s money being squandered on a failed intervention and political decisions being made in the face of overwhelming evidence that contradicts the political and ideological position.  But it is not only the political class that is guilty of what is best described as Policy-based Evidence, as opposed to evidence-based policy, which can be defined as:

Crime control policy based on the ideological and theoretical bias of the Policy Industry and politicians.

Strategies for Reducing the Prison Population

In this last section I will set out a number of strategies that will enable Minister Little and his officials to meet their stated target of a 30% reduction in the prison muster.  Because of time constraints they are offered in a very simplistic, largely unevidenced manner; that I admit. They are designed to become part of the general discussion occurring right now,

Depoliticise Crime Control Policy
The first strategy I advocate appears on paper the easiest, but in fact is probably the most difficult to implement: we need to put a stop to the impact of political ideology on our response to social harm. We need to depoliticise crime control policy in much the same way Finland has done.  We need a cross-party agreement to stop the juvenile nonsense we suffer every three years where politicians try to out macho each other to see who can be the 'toughest on crime', resulting in increases in police (with the usual unrealised promises of a reduction in crime), more prison beds, longer sentences, and so forth.  This has been the standard political response to social harm for the best part of three decades: has it made us safer (or, more accurately, to 'feel' safer)?  The answer is no.  The way forward is to develop a policy process based on the needs of community, and one less concerned with the needs of politicians. 

Get Over the Policy Cringe and Empower the Community
Those who work with victims and offenders invariable know what is needed to respond meaningfully to the social issues arising from social harm.  We need the policy sector to work with them more directly (and respectfully) as partners to develop effective, socially grounded solutions.  In order to do so we need to move away from the policy cringe that too often afflicts the Policy Industry in Wellington.  Much like cultural cringe, the policy cringe is based on the erroneous belief that 'things are done better elsewhere', and that successful responses to social harm must be imported from other jurisdictions, usually from jurisdictions with high crime rates!  Go figure.  So we import crime control policies from other jurisdictions, invariable do little to alter them for the New Zealand context, and then place them over the top of community-centred practise... and watch them crash and burn.  the classic example of this process was the importation to New Zealand in the mid-2000s of Multi-Systemic Therapy from the U.S, as` part of the new youth residential programme that was trialed in Hamilton.  Officials from a number of agencies, including Te Puni Kokiri stated serious concerns at the suitability of the programme for Maori youth; concerns that were ignored.  The result?  The programme, and MST especially, was a failure, while at the same time a number of existing home-grown wrap-around, social support programmes for Maori youth, were ignored. 

Treatment and Social Support, not Criminalisation and Imprisonment
There is a simple response that will reduce the prison population quickly and enable Minister Little to meet his 30% objective, stop sending people to prison! 

Stop arresting people, charging them, sending them to court, sentencing them to imprisonment for victimless crimes, like some drug offences.

Stop sending people to prison who are addicted or mentally unwell – increase significantly our reliance and focus on therapeutic jurisprudence.

And here is a suggestion that will likely anger some, perhaps some of you here – recognise the reality we are dealing with regarding our prison muster – a significant number of them are addicted, are mentally unwell, and many have long histories of trauma – of domestic violence, or sexual victimisation.  

To stop them from victimising others, then we need to deal with their trauma, and if you want evidence of the sorts of victimisation and trauma that some of our past and present prison muster are dealing with, then I recommend you read Dr Liz Stanley’s 2016 publication The Road to Hell: State Violence Against Children in Postwar New Zealand.

Alluding to the trauma suffered by offenders is unpopular for some people, and inevitably results in statements that 'you are making excuses for serious crime': no, I am not.  I am though highlighting a reality that we need to deal with if we are to create a safer, more just society.  By focusing on their trauma of experienced by offenders I am offering one explanation for their behaviour, and not a reason to ignore the harm they cause others. 

Let Us In!
The crime control sector needs to let go, it needs to grow up, it needs to stop being so risk adverse, and allow independent researchers like myself and others to undertake critical, independent research.

The principal crime control agencies have for some time now been making it very difficult for independent, critical researchers to scrutinise the performance of the ‘system’.

Oh, I know they will be able to cite a few examples since 2001 where they have allowed PhD students or other researchers 'in' to prisons to do research, for example... research that is likely contracted by the agency or heavily vetted to ensure it serves the needs of the agency, and is unlikely to result in critical findings that might embarrass Corrections, or Police, or Justice, or worse, their Minister.

I am talking about the strategy that the sector appears to be following the past few years of blocking critical research that does not suit agency needs.  And it is blocking independent researchers from going about their business, by using excuses like 'the information that will be gathered doesn't match with our trending data' or with 'our strategic priorities', or some similar nonsense.  And if that fails Corrections and others can fall back on well-worn excuses such as potential 'safety' issues for both inmates and researchers, or muster issues or whatever else they can think of.  

And yet other jurisdictions, most notably the United Kingdom, have in the past had few issues with allowing researchers to enter prisons to carry out their work. The evidence for this is the significant amount (comparatively speaking) of independent research materials published in academic journals on prisons and corrections policies in that and other comparable jurisdictions.  The problem in the New Zealand context seems to grow from the intersection- a dangerous combination - of three factors: 1) a policy elite who appear to believe themselves above critique, 2) a policy elite who believe they are not answerable to the public, and 3) who are supported by a political elite who share the same arrogance and aversion to independent scrutiny.  

Let me be even more frank, policy workers and government agencies do not always have the answers and, more importantly because they are so close to their own work they often can't see the wood for the trees.  In other words it is sometimes very difficult for them to step back and critically analysis the impact or their work or identify the questions that need to be asked and answered by research.  Sometimes the questions and topics 'the community', which includes independent researchers, inmates, ex-inmates, inmates and ex-inmates families, victims and service providers, believe are important will not match those of the policy sector; and sometimes the communities questions are the right ones to be asking. Remember, a government agency is part of the public service and derives its resources from the public purse.  Therefore, it is time for policy practitioners to stop acting as though they are not answerable to the public.

Bias and Racism
And lastly, specifically on the issue of Maori over-representation in the criminal justice system:

In answer to the oft-heard statement that we Maori should step up and take responsibility of the offending and victimisation that occurs in our communities:

Yes we should, and we already are: from time to time we hear this comment from social commentators, shock jocks and the like, such as Mike Hoskins, Paul Henry, you know when some shocking incident takes place and invariably we hear ‘where are the Maori leaders?  Why aren’t they saying anything?  Why aren’t Maori doing anything, etc, etc.  The ready answer is a) is because they are busy doing the mahi (work), b) you (shock jocks and the like) are not exactly that important to us in terms of reporting what we are doing, c) such commentators appear to never go and find out for themselves what we are doing. I’ve not once heard of them going to say Te Whakaruruhau, Maori women’s refuge in Hamilton to look at their anti-violence work with Maori men in Waikeria Prison, or the numerous other Maori-run entities working with youth and adult offenders and victims, often with far less government financial support per client than mainstream service providers.  Such comments are therefore, uninformed and biased.

If you want us to do more then get out of our way: stop putting policy and financial barriers in  our way to developing more effective interventions for our own.  And while you are doing that, do something about the racism and bias that exists in both the frontline crime control agencies and also in the policy sector.  The claim by the Police Commissioner that there is no racism in police, only that some officers have ‘unconscious bias’ is nothing more than a political ruse designed to ignore the truth of racism within the force.  The existence of racism and bias in police and other criminal justice institutions in other western jurisdictions is well-evidenced, jurisdictions by the way that we regularly compare ourselves to.  What makes the Commissioner and his supporters believe our force is any different?  Perhaps it is because they continue to believe in the myth of New Zealand having the best race relations in the world?  Bias does exist in our system, and despite the best attempts to block independent research that I spoke of earlier, we do have empirical evidence that demonstrates this, starting with Moana Jackson’s 1988 report, 2 MRL attitudinal surveys in the 1990s, Roguski and Te Whaiti’s Police Perceptions of Maori research published in 2000.

If we Maori are to take up the challenge to do more, as we should, then just as importantly, crime control institutions and the policy sector in New Zealand need to be more open and honest about the bias and racism that exists in our institutions and do something concrete about these issues.  And if they do, perhaps then, together, we can change the landscape of criminal justice in this country, and Minister Little can not only meet his 30% target, one that becomes sustainable over time.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Can the Restorative Justice Industry be Relevant to Indigenous Peoples?

The following commentary is made in response to the recent restorative justice symposium held in Wellington, New Zealand on 24-25 October 2018:

As an Indigenous scholar, I hold little hope that the Restorative Justice (RJ) industry will one day prove itself to be of significant value to Indigenous peoples. My pessimism is based on my observations and experiences of the way members of the industry go about their work. Especially problematic is the fact that the consistent use of elements of the Indigenous life-world by RJ advocates cannot be considered an unintended consequence of the marketing activities of the industry. The marketing of RJ products is underpinned far too often by the reiteration of unsupported myths designed to demonstrate the ‘indigenousness’ of what is ostensibly a white, middle class dominated and controlled crime control business, for this to be considered as anything other than the purposeful employment of Indigenous knowledge and practice for the advantage of the industry (Cunneen, 2008; Tauri, 2014). And so, RJ advocates continuing to bastardise Indigenous philosophies and socio-cultural practices, and to mislead the ‘market’ about the ‘Indigeneity’ of their products. This activity continues despite a decade or more of sustained Indigenous, and non-Indigenous critique of this behaviour (for example, see Blagg, 1997; 2008; Cunneen, 1998; 2008; Love, 2002; Tauri, 1998 2004, to name but a few).  To date, there has been little response to this critique. Indeed, I would suggest that the situation is worse than that: it appears the more we point out the unethical conduct of members of the RJ movement with regards Indigenous peoples, the more our views are ignored.  So, why the lack of response to the Indigenous critique? Why do members of the RJ industry continue to co-opt elements of Indigenous life-worlds, and continue to exaggerate the indigenous foundations of both their movement and some of its key products? These questions provide the basis for an interesting and informative research project. Until that is done we can only speculate, as I will attempt to do to do here.

It is now well established that members of the RJ ‘community’ aggressively marketed their RJ wares, most especially derivatives of New Zealand’s FGC forum, on the increasingly globalised crime control market (Tauri, 2016). It has further been established that the marketing was most aggressive in those settler colonial contexts suffering from the dual wicked problems of Indigenous over-representation and the radicalisation of Indigenous political activity (Tauri, 2014). This should come as no surprise to anyone who has engaged with the RJ lexicon that exploded from 1990 to the late 2000s. Much of this material contained oft-repeated claims of the indigenous foundations of RJ policies and philosophies and forums imbued with the ancient teachings and practises of Indigenous peoples (Richards, 2007). That the RJ movement is now accepted as a legitimate player on the globalised crime control market, and treated by the settler colonial states as a viable partner in its continued domination of crime control, owes much to the development and marketing of the industry’s supposedly ‘Indigenous products’. In part this may explain why so many RJ advocates, in particularly those responsible for bastardising Indigenous peoples’ philosophies and justice processes, remain silent in the face of increasing critique of their practice. And why would they not choose to remain so? For right now they have the support of the state to design, implement and ‘evaluate’ their products.  In return, and to ensure their products are ‘marketable’ to the biggest funder of crime control, they modify them, continually designing out or softening the restorative ‘bits’ in order to make them more palatable to the tough on crime stance that dominates governmental response to social harm in most Western jurisdictions (Roach, 2012; Rudin, 2005; Suzuki and Wood, 2017; Tauri, 2009). In a policy environment like this, what is a little bit of noise from a small group of stroppy coloured folk, when the Industry has been accepted into the governmental fold, and is eligible to receive taxpayers’ monies?  After all, they know better than us what our communities need, right? 

Wrong. From a critical Indigenous perspective the response to the deceit, the myth-making and condescension of the RJ industry towards us is obvious: if you continue to use our philosophies and practises without our input and consent; if you continue to use ‘our stuff’ to line your own pockets and to further your careers without respectful engagement with us; if you continue to exaggerate the ‘Indigenousness’ of your products, and ignore our critique of your conduct, then you are a hypocrite who is not living up to so-called principles of the restorative justice movement to which you belong. You will also do serious damage to the movement itself in being able to work to achieve the transformative potential its members claim it is capable of. But perhaps just as important to a movement founded on social justice principles and aims, you will soon cease to be of any consequence to one of the most disaffected, disenfranchised communities residing in the settler colonial context.

This commentary was formulated to inject an Indigenous perspective into one of the key ‘contested areas’ of RJ-related analysis, namely its value to marginalised communities residing in western jurisdictions. It has also been designed to yet again offer an empirically-informed perspective on what I consider to be one of the significant ‘grey areas’ of RJ theorising, policy formulation and practice, namely the Indigenous experience of all this activity.  I say ‘yet again’ because while it has been written with these key aims in mind, it was also written with another purpose in mind - to cajole, to embarrass, to prompt RJ advocates and practitioners to respond to the Indigenous critique of RJ. In truth, the ‘debate’ about the value of RJ to Indigenous peoples is not a contested area at all, because as stated earlier the majority of theoreticians, advocates and practitioners have thus far ignored the Indigenous critique. For there to be a ‘contest’ there would actually have to be a debate, and so far the only debate that appears to taking place is between like-minded, RJ advocates who are conveniently ignoring the Indigenous experience.

By comparison, it is more accurate to say that the impact that RJ is having on Indigenous communities is indeed a ‘grey area’ of practice.Despite this, advocates continue to make claims about RJ programmes, like the FGC and other conferencing formats, being ‘capable of meeting the needs of Indigenous peoples’ because of a magical alignment between these formulations and our ‘ways of doing justice’. Indigenous-led research by the likes of Moyle (2013; 2014), Victor (2007) and others, inserts an empirically-informed edge to our critique, and also acts as a thinly veiled challenge to the RJ to up its game when making claims about the ‘added value’ of its activities for our communities.

I have from time-to-time been asked if RJ offers anything of value to Indigenous peoples, if we ‘want’ it, if it can play a meaningful part in how Indigenous communities respond to social harm that occurs in our communities. I usually answer these questions with a two part response, the first being direct and to-the-point, which is that it is hard to formulate a response because there has been very little RJ ‘delivered’ in Indigenous communities across all settler colonial contexts. Most of what passes for RJ programmes experienced by Indigenous peoples are state-controlled standardised criminal justice interventions where the RJ elements have been exaggerated to create the illusion of communitarianism. And secondly, I answer by saying that rather than having to identify a position on the validity of the use of RJ by or in Indigenous communities, it is for RJ advocates and practitioners’ to demonstrate why their policies and programmes should be implemented in lieu of our own responses to social harm.  

For the  RJ movement to become relevant to us it needs to 1) stop mythologising its own history, 2) enhancing the mythologising by exaggerating its linkages to Indigenous life worlds, 3) stop using elements of our life-worlds to market their products, without our permission, 4) engage with our scholarship, with our perspectives,  instead of relying on the perspectives of non-Indigenous academics and advocates, and finally, 5) show us some respect by actually respond meaningfully to our critique of the industry, its products and the activities of its practitioners.  These things I believe are necessary for the movement to demonstrate that it can be a critical ally, one that supports our drive for self-determination in the realm of justice. 

Blagg, H., 1997. A just measure of shame?  Aboriginal youth and conferencing in Australia, British Journal of Criminology, 37(4), pp. 481-501.

Blagg, H., 2008. Crime, aboriginality and the decolonisation of justice. Sydney: Hawkins Press. 

Cunneen, C., 1997. Community conferencing and the fiction of Indigenous control, Australian New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 30, pp. 292-311.

Cunneen, C., 2008. Indigenous anger and the criminogenic effects of the criminal justice system.  In A. Day; M. Nakata and K. Howells eds. Anger and Indigenous men. Leichhardt: Federation Press, pp. 37-46.  

Love, C., 2002. Maori perspectives on colloboration and colonisation in contemporary Aotearoa/New Zealand child and family welfare policies and practicesPaper presented at the Policy and Partnerships Conference, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, June. 

Moyle, P., 2013. From family group conferencing tp whanau ora: Maori social workers talk about their experiences, unpublished Master's thesis, Massey University. 

Moyle, P., 2014. Maori social workers’ experiences of care and protection: A selection of findings, Te Komako, Social Work Review, 26(1), pp. 5-64.

Richards, K., 2007. 'Rewriting history': Towards a genealogy of 'restorative justice'unpublished PhD thesis, University of Western Sydney. 

Roach, K., 2012. The institutionalisation of restorative Justice in Canada: Effective reform or limited and limiting add-on? In I. Aertsen., T. Deams., and L. Robert, ed. Institutionalising Restorative Justice. New York: Routledge, pp. 167-193. 

Rudin, J., 2005. Aboriginal justice and restorative justice.  In E. Elliot and R. Gordon eds. New directions in restorative justice: Issues, practice,evaluationDevon: Willan Publishing, pp. 89-114. 

Suzuki, M., and Wood, W., 2017. Co-option, coercion and compromise: Restorative justice in Victoria, Australia, Contemporary Justice Review, 20(2), pp. 274-292. 

Tauri, J., 1998. Family group conferences: A case study of the indigenisation of New Zealand’s justice system, Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 10(2), pp. 168-182.

Tauri, J., 2004. Conferencing, indigenisation and orientalism: A critical commentary on recent state responses to Indigenous offending. Paper presented at The Qwi: Qwelstom Gathering: ‘Bringing Justice Back to the People’, Mission, British Columbia, 22-24 March. 

Tauri J., 2009. An Indigenous commentary on the standardisation of restorative justice, Indigenous Policy Journal20(3), online. 

Tauri, J., 2014. Settler-colonialism, criminal justice and Indigenous peoples, African Journal of Criminology and Justice Studies, 8(1), pp. 20-37.

Tauri, J., 2016. The state, the academy and Indigenous justice: A counter-colonial critique,  unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wollongong. 

Victor, W., 2007. Indigenous justice: Clearing space and place for Indigenous epistemologiesOttawa: National Centre for First Nations Governance.  

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

A Commentary on Criminological Elitism

As revealed by the Norwegian sociologist, Victor Shammas (year unknown), one of the key concerns of sociologists of punishment, and criminologists, has been the impact on the policy making process and the wider body politic, of penal populism.  Shammas defines penal populism as the ways in which political parties have competed with one another to present themselves to the voting public as exponents of a politics of law and order.  Exponents routinely promise the electorate ‘tough on crime’ responses, matched by longer prison sentences, harsher punishment regimes, all supported by an ever-expanding prison complex and police force.  Penal populism is best viewed as a collaborative project that encompasses a triumvirate made up of the political/policy class, the media and the ‘community’ who work off (and with) each other in a mutually beneficial project based on the generation of fear, victimisation, demonisation and moral panic.

 Shammas rightly points out that besides the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of the policies and interventions that generally result from penal populism, the process also involves the marginalisation of the right sort of commentator, namely sociologists and criminologists, who offer an empirically informed, ‘neutral’, objective, sophisticated view of the world of deviance.  In a policy process dominated by penal populism, the technical and empirical knowledge of the criminological elite is sidelined, or as Shamma beautifully states it, “supplanting the (putatively) reflective, restrained, and rehabilitationist dispositions of a rational, reasonable elite who were tasked with shaping the field of crime control in past times”.

 In Shammas’ thesis, the sociological and criminological experts represent the physical manifestation of the mirror concept of ‘penal elitism’, which he describes as “the normative (over)valuation of elites and consequent devaluation of the public’s right to determine the field of crime control”.  My translation: the massive egos of the academic elite leads them to believe that only their views and perspectives should impact crime control policy, while the perspectives and experiences of Joe Blog should not (unless of course it has first been filtered through the world view of an academic).  Shamma then claims that unlike penal populism, which has received extensive attention from the penal elite, penal elitism has itself received little critical attention; thus “leading a largely subterranean existence, rarely, if ever, subjected to reflexive scrutiny”.

 Well, not quite: as part of a wider critique of racism in the western academy, the ‘other’ academy is fighting back and increasingly exposing the bigotry and condescension that lies at the heart of the mainstream academy.  This is true also of mainstream criminology, a discipline some commentators hold partially responsible for the ongoing subjugation of the poor, Indigenous peoples, and the descendants of slaves residing in North America and the Caribbean (see for example Agozino, 2003; Kitossa, 2012; Tauri, 2016, and for discussion of racism and bias in the academy per se, see Fredericks, 2009; Gunstone, 2009; Harrison, 2012).

 I will now take Shamma’s thesis and apply it specifically to the discipline of criminology, and most especially to the ‘types’ of criminology – the administrative and authoritarian strains prevalent in Australasia - and criminologists - namely white, middle class and non-Indigenous - who market themselves as criminological experts on Indigenous peoples and Indigenous issues.  I believe Shamma’s analysis of the mirrored concepts of penal populism/penal elitism provides fertile ground for understanding the ongoing bigotry that sits at the heart of the criminological enterprise, most especially to the work many of its adherents do on ‘coloured folk’ the world over.

 The Deceit and Condescension of the Criminological Elite

I  wish to begin by reframing Shamma’s concepts of penal populism and penal elitism so they refer more directly to my commentary on mainstreams criminology’s ‘attitude’ towards Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous academics and criminologists:

 Criminological Elitism

The normative (over)valuation of non-Indigenous criminologists’ perspectives on Indigenous peoples and Indigenous issues to influence crime control policy in relation to ‘the Indigenous problem’, supported by the purposeful devaluation of Indigenous perspectives and experiences (see below).

 Indigenous Populism           

The representation of Indigenous perspectives and experiences of crime control and the work of Indigenous criminologists, as lacking in ‘objectivity’, resulting in knowledge derived from ‘unscientific’ methods of observing, measuring, analysing and ‘knowing’.  In other words, the purposeful denigration of Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies, and the refutation of Indigenous peoples rights to self-determination.

 And so, exactly how do these two, intertwined concepts manifest through the behaviours and attitudes of mainstream criminologists in the Australasian context?  There are the obvious examples, or strategies through which this occurs, some of which I have discussed previously, both here in my blog and in published academic work (see Tauri, 2017), but the most common include:

 The denigration of Indigenous knowledge

A common strategy in Australasian criminology, usually in the form of derogatory comments about ‘others’ knowledges being ‘non-scientific’, ‘non-rationale’, gathered and disseminated using inadequate methods, gathered by practitioners ‘too close to the sources’, and so on.  The strategy is used to create the impression that Indigenous knowledge and experiences of crime control AND criminology are subjective, irrational and ‘emotional’, and therefore should not impact the development of crime control policy (for recent, classic examples of this strategy see Marie, 2010 and Weatherburn, 2010; 2015).

 Exaggerated notions of criminological scientism

Closely linked to the silencing of Indigenous voices and experiences is the exaggeration by mainstream criminologists as to the scientific bases for their research.  Or as Shamma eloquently describes it “[the[ strong belief in the supremacy of rationalism and science” that forms the basis for the ideological construction of a “stereotypical opposition between reason and emotion, rationality and intuition, science and lay knowledge… in short between (elevated) scientific expertise and the (debased) ‘people’”.

 Many mainstream, Australasian criminologists seem to be under the mistaken belief that they and their work is ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’.  This especially appears to be a case for those who choose to ‘research from afar’, who prefer desk-based research in lieu of actually talking to Indigenous peoples about their experiences (see Deckert, 2016).  One can easily surmise that the two strategies are closely linked because if you are a) going to denigrate the knowledge systems of others, then you must also b) create the illusion that your ‘way of knowing’ is the only one of value.

 And it is in this realm that things get really interesting for the Indigenous scholar, because the way in which this strategy is constructed and deployed in the service of whitestream criminology is devastatingly effective.  For not only is it deployed to silence Indigenous communities, to invalidate their anti-criminal justice statements, but also to discredit the epistemologies and methodologies employed by Indigenous scholars.  This is done in the hope that their community-informed texts will be superseded by the more ‘scientifically derived, detached commentary of the white privileged criminologist (for an exploration of this strategy in the wider academy see Moreton-Robinson, 2000).
The silencing of Indigenous voices and experience

Another common strategy that involves non-Indigenous scholars conveniently ignoring the Indigenous lexicon; the research, publications and public pronouncements of Indigenous scholars, activists and community members despite the easy availability of said material.  This strategy appears to be common amongst restorative justice scholars and advocates, especially when they are commenting on the ‘Indigenousness’ of RJ and their favourite RJ products.  Absent from their ramblings is any meaningful engagement with criticisms by Indigenous scholars.  This strategy, of ‘forgetting’ (perhaps more accurately, ‘ignoring’), is especially common amongst New Zealand RJ advocates such as Maxwell (2008), Morris (2002) and McElrea (2003) (for a recent example see Henwood and Stafford, 2014, and my critique of this publication, Tauri, 2015).

 Indigenous contributions as criminological ‘piece-work’

One of the increasingly popular strategies, is for criminology departments to confine the teaching of Indigenous issues within ‘mainstream’ papers, to a lecture here (on Maori and prisons), and there (Maori and policing), more often than not given by a non-Indigenous criminologist with no experience of researching the actual topic with Indigenous people.  This is a rather peculiar situation, given both the extent of Indigenous over-representation in criminal justice, and the demonstrable lack of success by settler-colonial governments in effectively responding to the problem.

 Dove-tail this strategy with the lack of commitment (or ability) of criminology departments in general, to hiring Indigenous scholars (yes, we are rare, but if you get off your asses and strategise, put some effort into growing Indigenous post-grads, etc, it is possible), you have the basis for explaining why the drop-out rates of Indigenous students is higher than the norm; no, it is not because they are not as smart as their non-Indigenous colleagues, but because what is being taught does not resonate with them or their life experiences.  For example, when a well-known, senior New Zealand criminologist stands in front of an introductory criminology class, as one did a few years ago, and in response to a question from a Maori student about the devastation of white law on Maori, states that ‘if white people did not come here Maori would still be axing each other’, then you will lose those students to other disciplines.

 The main point I am trying to make here is this: in general, in the Australasian context, the criminology academy’s commitment to teaching and researching Indigenous issues, is piecemeal: our knowledge, our experiences are more often than not add-ons that enable departments to tick the Indigenous box in their yearly reports.  And far too many of Indigenous scholars hired by criminology departments are treated as ‘piece-workers’, teaching the small amount of 'Indigenous stuff' the whitestream academy finds will allow it to fulfil its 'Treaty' and 'Reconciliation' obligations under the University's Aboriginal Strategy.

Racism and bigotry

And last but not least, there is the strategy of outright racism and bigotry, whether it is the micro-level aggressions we experience every day, such as colleagues placing our names on grant applications as ‘cultural advisors’ without actually seeking our advice, to using our Aboriginality as an argument for shedding their committee work to us (as in ‘we so need an Aboriginal voice on this committee’, regardless of the fact that said committee doesn’t actually need one).  Then there are the macro-aggressions, such as the construction of the Indigenous critic of institutional practice as aggressive, emotional, dangerous (and therefore in need of  increased surveillance and scrutiny), in order to draw attention away from the unethical and disempowering conduct of non-Indigenous members of the academy; or demonstrating commitment to the aims of institutional Indigenous strategies by cutting the number of Indigenous courses, or only hiring Indigenous members of staff on contracts and not in tenure track positions (until they ‘prove themselves), and so forth.


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Deckert A (2016) Criminologists, Duct Tape, and Indigenous People: Quantifying the Use of Silencing Research Methods. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice 40(1): 43-62.

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Henwood, C and Stratford, S (2014) A Gift to the World: The Youth Justice Family Group Conference. Wellington: The Henwood Trust.

Kitossa, T (2012) Criminology and colonialism: Counter colonial criminology and the Canadian context, Journal of Pan African Studies, 4(1), pp. 204-226. 

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Morris, A (2002) Critiquing the Critics: A Brief Response to the Critics of Restorative Justice, British Journal of Criminology, 42(3): 596-615.

Moreton-Robinson, E (2000) Talking up to the White Woman: Indigenous Women and Feminism. Brisbane: University of Queensland Press.

Shammas, V (unknown) Penal Elitism: Anatomy of a Professional Ideology; available via Academia.

Tauri, J (2015) Beware Justice Advocates Bearing Gifts: A Commentary on the Glorification of Family Group Conferencing, New Zealand Sociology, 30(1): 183-190. 

Tauri, J (2016) The State, Crime Control and Indigenous Justice: A Counter-colonial Critique, PhD thesis, University of Wollongong.

Tauri, J (2017) Imagining the Future of Indigenous Criminology, in A. Deckert and R. Sarre (eds), Australian and New Zealand Handbook of Criminology, Crime and Justice, Palgrave Macmillan.