Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Globalisation of Crime Control: Restorative Justice and Indigenous Justice

The following text is based on my notes for a presentation at the European Criminology conference, held in Budapest 3-6 September, 2013.

Firstly, I want to articulate my 'position' to the audience, in others words expose both my purpose and my prejudice: this presentation is not the 'scientific observations of an Administrative Criminologist', but rather the subjective, grounded observations of an Indigenous activist.  My first, and primary goal is to articulate the Indigenous experience of the activities of criminologists, policy makers, and the restorative justice industry; to expose our concerns with how the activities of these crime control 'players' are exacerbating the neo-colonialism of First Nations through their ongoing use of Indigenous cultural artifacts in support of the inter-jurisdictional transfer of their crime control products.  My focus on expressing the Indigenous voice and experience enables me to meet the challenge laid down by First Nation leaders to further the cause of Indigenous justice, and also that of a small number of Western criminologists, such as O'Malley, Muncie and Stenson for criminology to move on from obsessive theorising about the shape and depth of contemporary globalising of crime control, and instead (my interpretation of what they were asking for) 'get real' and start analysing the micro-level impact all this 'globalising activity' is having 'on the ground' and with specific communities - in this case First Nations residing in Settler Societies like New Zealand and Canada.

I became interested in the globalisation of crime control as a criminological topic in the early 2000's, as a result of critical research into family group conferencing (see Tauri, 1998; 1999).  My interest was fuelled by a) engaging with the then growing criminological literature on the seeming increasing global transfer of western crime control policies, as a way of understanding how the FGC forum had moved from New Zealand to other jurisdictions; and b) because of a curious incident that occurred at an Indigenous justice conference I attended in British Columbia, Canada, in March of 2004.  The 'incident' went something like this:

Marketing restorative justice
At one point I was sitting working on my notes for my keynote address, when 2 delegates came to me and handed me a document, saying that I should read it and perhaps even comment on it later.  The document was a glossy, A4 marketing booklet for an RJ franchise (private) company.  The 'product' being spruiked was the company's franchised version of the FGC forum.  But that wasn't the really interesting part of the document (although finding out, at that time, that FGC had been privatised, certainly was revealing), it was the cover, and the language being used to 'sell' the product that really caught my attention. 

The script on the cover talked about 'real justice for Aboriginal peoples' and included a Koru motif, a well known 'Maori' art symbol, and the primary colours were Black, Red and White, the well known colours of the Maori sovereignty movement and its flag.  On opening the document I was confronted by  the usual over-the-top spiel associated with marketing materials, but in summary it went something along these lines:

'do you have an Aboriginal justice problem?  Are your Aboriginal peoples significantly overrepresented in the the criminal justice system?  If so, we have the deal for you, FGC's, a Maori (Aboriginal) justice initiative'... etc.etc

The Restorative Justice Industry and Indigenous Peoples
So, we might ask ourselves'what is wrong with this story?  What is concerning about this particular private company spruiking its wares on the international crime control market utilising the symbols, language and art of Maori? 

From an Indigenous perspective the answer is... everything, because a) the company in question certainly had not engaged with Maori to discuss using this material (evident from the script and work cited in the document), or sought permission to utilise it (more about that issue, and 'ownership' of culture in a postscript on responses to my presentation to be discussed in the next blog), and b) what was in fact being marketed, the FGC product, was not an Indigenous justice forum, at least not to the extent the company was claiming.  What the company was doing was simply repeating the oft-told, exaggerated claim of certain Australasian Administrative Criminologists, what I call the 'Origin Myth of the FGC', namely that the FGC forum is heavily imbued with 'Maori cultural practice', or is indeed an 'Indigenous forum'. 

Let us be clear - these claims are exaggerated: the forum is in fact much more heavily imbued with Western 'cultural artefacts', having its 'biological genesis' from the then growing mediation/western communitarian crime control response at the heart of its (heavily institutionalised) practice.  It is a Western policy/criminological invention on to which Administrative Criminologists and policy workers have grafted bits of Indigenous philosophy and practice.  At its philosophical heart the product is less about 'our ways of justice', and more a reflection of the then growing policy focus of responses to Western youth justice - the 'responsibilisation' of youth offenders and their families. 

From an Indigenous perspective, the activities of certain Western criminologists, policy-makers, and private franchise companies, spruiking certain RJ products, like FGC and Sentencing Circles - Western crime control models replete with bastardised Indigenous components - represents one of the biggest and most serious Criminological shams of the past 50 years (others include claims that 'more police = less crime', or that 'prisons are/can be therapeutic environments'). 

These are the products that are all too often valorised in the RJ literature; offered up as evidence to support the social movements claim to be significantly different to the brutalising, violent state justice system, and to its commitment to cultural sensitivity and empowerment of Minorities.  In fact the movement needs to wake up to itself and realise the following uneasy truths that all this activity:

a) is playing into the hands of government and policy makers - enabling them to offset the Indigenous challenge to the legitimacy of the formal justice system by providing it with artifacts that enable the appearance of cultural sensitivity and responsivity, in place of a genuine critique of the genocidal practices of state dominated crime control;

b) is more about fuelling the careers of criminologists and profits for private RJ companies, than empowering First Nations and furthering their desire for judicial autonomy.

Apart from a few well known exceptions (Kath Daly, Harry Blagg and Chris Cunneen, in the Australian context), the the acceptance of the Origin Myths associated with FGC and Sentencing Circles (re: their Indigenous foundations) within the RJ Academy, policy making, etc, is almost total, and goes largely unchallenged in the criminological and RJ lexicon.  This situation is a disgrace and there is no excuse for it, especially since publication of the Indigenous critique of all this activity has been steadily growing since the late 1990s, including my own work and that of Wenona Victor and Gloria Lee, to name a few.  And yet if you look at any bibliography on these artifacts published by the Academy you rarely find any reference to these publications, or meaningful engagement with the Indigenous issues and experiences they offer.  And what discussion there is, is more often than not highly superficial and dismissive.  For Indigenous criminologists like myself the situation is fuelling our discontent with the wider discipline of Criminology as it yet again demonstrates its willingness to support the neo-colonial subjugation of First Nations, just as it did during the colonialism, a fact eloquently exposed by Biko Agozino in his 2004 book Counter-colonial Criminology.

As an Indigenous person I find it easy to understand why Western criminologists, policy makers, private RJ companies and the like, are drawn to using Indigenous culture to sell their wares.  After all, one of the fundamental 'rules' of modern marketing is that 'sex sells', and let's face it, the Indigenous life-world is very sexy and very exotic.  This process - the Western criminological enterprise using, even stealing our 'stuff' - let us call it what it really is, namely the Eroticisation of Western crime control; a process driven by the desire to strengthen the marketing of Indigenised products on international markets.  But let's be just as clear about what it is not - the empowerment of the Indigenous Other.

And what may we ask, is the philosophical basis to all this marketing activity?  Well, one fundamental driver is the belief amongst many Western crime control 'experts' of the universal appeal of their wares; that Western crime control 'culture' can be universally applied anywhere in the world so long as you indigenise and eroticise for local consumption.

In 2001 Susanne Karstedt wrote that criminology was moving towards Indigenisation; rediscovering 'traditional' communitarian practices, but utilising Indigenous modes of crime control due to the Wests loss of their own practices over time; importing our practices from the Periphery to inform justice practice at the Centre.   Susanne was right to a point, because what was being imported were not Indigenous wares but Western responses, eroticised 'packages of political subjectivity' that met Western needs to 'get in touch with their historical, communitarian selves'.  In other words, you were all 'had' by a wonderfully effective marketing strategy.

The Impact of RJ Marketing on First Nations
The impact on First Nations of all this activity is very real, and very concerning.  Over the past 3 decades First Nations around the world have been resisting colonialism and neocolonialism by attempting to create for themselves some form of jurisdictional autonomy.  In response to these activities, and at the forefront of state resistance, have been globalised RJ products that are used as offerings of appeasement in place of real change to the racist, brutalising practices of crime control agencies.  Returning now to the story I used to open this presentation, the use of Indigenous cultural components to sell RJ products was a standard practice of companies operating in the North American jurisdiction.  And it had a very real impact as the Royal Mounties began utilising the forum as a standard response to youth offending.   

Dr Wenona Victor, a criminologist from the Stolo Nation of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, underlines the successful transfer of FGC’s to Canada through the targeting of First Nations as recipients of this particular form of neo-colonial crime control product, and of the impact it had on First Nation moves to empower themselves.  By the late 1990s the Stolo First Nation of the Fraser Valley had begun the process of reinvigorating their own justice processes.  During that process they were informed that to 'receive' referrals of their youth (offenders) they would need to use FGC's.  Dr Victor describes receiving training on implementing FGC within Stolo territory, a process that had been sold to them by justice officials as “…developed by the Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand”  She recounts the Stolo experience of receiving this training thus:

On the first day we all eagerly awaited her [the trainer’s] arrival.  We were somewhat surprised to see an extremely “White” looking lady enter the room; however, we have blonde blue-eyed, even red-headed Stolo among us, and so, too, we presumed, must the Maori.  However, it did not take us long to come to realise this lady was not Maori and was in fact Xwelitem [European].  Ah, the Maori had sent a Xwelitem; okay, we do that too, on occasion.  It is one of the many ironies of colonisation whereby Xwelitem often become our teachers….. [t]here are times when it is an Xwelitem who is recognised as the Stolo ‘expert’ and therefore, is the one talking even when there are Elders present.  But by the end of the three day training course I was convinced the Maori had lost their minds!  There was absolutely nothing Indigenous about this [FGC] model of justice whatsoever! (in Palys and Victor, 2007: 6)

Let me finish by reiterating what is going on here: the Stolo First Nation is attempting to empower themselves in part by resurrecting their own, tradition-based justice processes. While doing so government agents inform them that to be able to 'practice' Stolo justice with their own youth they would need to practice the 'justice' of another group of First Nations. Except that what they were expected to use was not Indigenous. The Academy, the RJ movement has a lot to answer for.


  1. Thanks for sharing. But what makes this 'subjective' rather than objective and social 'scientific'? You came across as committed but also every bit objective or what I call committed objectivity. We cannot cede objectivity to Europeans and cling to subjectivity the way feminist criminology tried with reference to malestream criminology. Objectivity is not point-of-viewlessness, as Mackinnon said.

    1. I agree entirely with your point - what I guess is missing from my comment at the beginning of the presentation is how it was 'put across', so to speak - as 'tongue in cheek' because more often than not this type of Indigenous analysis is often dismissed as subjective', plus I was taking the 'piss' out of audience members who like to portray themselves as 'authentic social scientists' because they keep themselves distant.