Wednesday, 23 April 2014

‘If You’re So Good, Why is Your Policy so Bad? A Maori Critique of Crime Control in New Zealand

Notes from my presentation to the Australia New Zealand Society of Criminology Conference, 22-25 November 2012.

Opening Statement
In case anyone is wondering, the first part of the title of the paper was a comment uttered by a participant during a consultation hui (meeting) with Maori service providers organised by the Department of Corrections in 2001 in Invercargill.  The purpose of the hui was to inform the development of the Department's Treaty of Waitangi Strategy.  

I heard this and many similar comments from Maori service providers, ex and current offenders, practitioners and even policy workers, during my ten years working in the Policy Industry from 1999.  It is a phrase that nicely frames the focus and content of this paper, mainly because it invokes a fundamental tension between the rhetoric and ideology of crime control policy production, and the impact such activity is having on the everyday lives of individual Maori, whanau, Maori communities and Maori service providers, tension that results from the Industry’s continuous exaggeration of the efficacy of its activities and its value to Maori.  The tendency of the Policy Industry to exaggerate the efficacy of its well-resourced activities is made obvious by decades of catastrophic failure of the Industry’s policy approach to social harm to have any meaningful impact, especially for Maori.   

Before I discuss why I believe that, overall, crime control policy making in New Zealand is an abject failure, especially for Maori, I first want to make the following statement to lay the contextual framework for what follows:

Arguably, Indigenous peoples residing in settler colonial societies experience a number of ‘truths’ when confronted by imposed, Eurocentric criminal justice systems; including that:
  • the ‘system’ plays a significant role in bringing about the ongoing problem of Indigenous over-representation;
  • the role the ‘system’ plays, especially the Policy Industry, goes largely unexamined and unchallenged (more on why this is later in the paper); and
  • the Policy Industry is ably supported by administrative formulations of the discipline of criminology, in particular a virulent form that appears in the settler colonial context – Authoritarian Criminology; a relationship that is most accurately described as parasitic.
This paper focuses on two critical questions:
  • why are the ‘Maori strategies’ and policies of these agencies so ineffective, and largely irrelevant to the Maori communities they are designed to serve?  And
  • why are policy workers and criminologists blaming Maori for the current levels of Maori over-representation?
The following commentary is based on empirical analysis derived from a range of qualitative research engagements with Maori cons, ex-cons, service providers, practitioners, social and youth workers, youth, youth gangs, discussions with researchers and academics over the past 18 years, including (importantly) 10 years analysing and developing policy as a member of the Policy Industry.

What is the Crux of the Problem?  The Policy Bubble
There are a number of issues/factors that play a role in the overall poor quality of Maori-targeted policy and interventions produced by the Policy Industry: combined they construct what I refer to as the Policy Bubble.  What is ‘the bubble’?

Exaggerated claims of success in the face of the inevitable, catastrophic failure of policy, and interventions.

How does the bubble manifest?

Through planned, purposeful build up of pressure relating to moral panic and political rhetoric relating to a) a particular form of social harm, and/or b) problem population (such as Maori).


Supported by:

Utilisation of managerialist policy development tools underpinned by core procedural concepts (which are in fact meaningless rhetorical devices) like ‘international best practice’, ‘evidence-based policy’, ‘scientific interventions’.

Underpinned by: 

The cherry picking of empirical evidence by policy workers to support preconceived, politically-driven policy, resourcing, legislative decisions:

All this activity is carried out with the full knowledge of the Policy Industry that the efficacy of said policies and interventions will have little positive impact on Maori - the exaggeration of its impact is intentional.

Case studies
Readers who are interested in this issue should engage with the following crime control policy projects; material for each one is readily available via the relevant government agency's webpages, or through submission of a Official Information Act request:

Dept of Corrections Integrated Offender Management.

Interdepartmental Organised Crime Strategy.

Ministry of Justice-led Crime Reduction and Youth Offending strategies.

Bursting the Bubble
Catastrophic (policy) failure occurs because of:
  • an over-reliance on external interventions lacking coherence to the NZ social context;
  • the a-cultural, a-theoretical nature of policy making;
  • policy making is part of a ‘political service’ and not the public service; and
  • ignorance of contemporary lived experience/social context of Maori.
Exaggerated claims made in the face of inevitable, catastrophic failure occur BECAUSE of the political nature of policy making, and because policy development is about control and manipulation of individuals and populations, and NOT the reduction of social harm

Case studies
Two excellent case studies that demonstrate the Policy Industry's purposeful use of interventions or policy levers to which they attach exaggerated claims of probable success include:
  • Boot camps, and various high level, inter-agency projects such as
  • Re-offending by Maori (RoBM)/Effectice Interventions/Drivers of Crime.
The criminal justice system and the policy sectors contribute to the problem of catastrophic failure in a number of ways, including:
  • the ongoing utilisation of militaristic-style policing strategies for ‘brown fella's’,
  • the Policy Industry's over-reliance on imported, socially inappropriate western crime control interventions, and
  • 'consultation' processes that marginalise non-Western knowledge and experiences from the act of policy making.
How Should We Respond to This Situation?  
By organising a multi-pronged, organised approach.

By all means carry on working ‘in’ the system, as policy workers, external advisors and such like, but be realistic and recognise that our ability to significantly alter current poor, racist practices of the Policy Industry is negligible without the dual strategy of 'good Maori'/'bad Maori' (critics).


Build a Maori-centred Congress focused on a) critiquing the Policy Industry, media, politicians and Authoritarian Criminologists and their activities to hold them accountable for the impact of their work and b) developing our own knowledge, empirical evidence and theories on the impact of policies and interventions to ensure our voices and experiences are ‘known’. 

The proposed Congress needs to involve researchers, academics, social service providers, cons, ex-cons, politicians of the ‘right’ ideological bent.  Furthermore, with regards the academy, it is imperative that we construct and employ an Indigenous Criminology, perhaps a Warrior Criminology focused on supporting our peoples endeavours to construct and practice meaningful interventions for social harms.  Our Warrior Criminology should aggressively pursue and combat racist criminologies and the Policy Industry, in order to nullify the negative impact their activities often have on Maori.

At present we have an interesting coalition forming that is seeking, as one of its key aims, to silence Indigenous critique of the policy sector and our challenge to the hegemony of administrative criminologists as the states principal 'advisors'.  Members of both groups, the Policy Industry and conservative, Authoritarian criminologists, are pointing the finger at Maori for the failure of New Zealand's crime control policy.  They are exaggerating the extent to which we influence the Policy Industry, as manifested in the proliferation conferencing programmes, Maori prison units, 'tikanga' programmes in corrections, Maori justice strategies and the like.  

This attack is fundamentally flawed because it ignores significant empirical evidence that a) these interventions are manifestations of public service/state indigenisation of Eurocentric (and often imported) policies and interventions.  Few, if any, are actually based on tikanga; b) so-called 'Maori interventions' receive less than 10% of the country's spend on crime control interventions; and c) Maori are far more likely to be subjected to imported, Eurocentric crime control interventions than they are to participate in tikanga-based programmes.


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