Saturday, 7 March 2015

Breaking the Criminal Justice-Criminology Nexus - Empowering Indigenous Communities

I want to begin by telling two stories in order to provide context for the issues I will cover in this presentation:

The stories

The 2013 European Criminology Conference: (see description of this case study included in the Indigenous Criminologist post of 29/10/2013).

Drivers of Crime: In 2008 New Zealand's Ministry of Justice organised a 1 day hui (meeting) with a range of service providers, researchers, academics, and community members as part of the consultation process for the development of what is now called the Drivers of Crime project.  In the lead up to the hui various government agencies 'bargained' with the Minister of Justice (and by extension, senior officials at MoJ) to ensure that the list of invitees represented a cross-section of the 'community'.  Te Puni Kokiri (the Ministry of Maori Development) was one of those agencies, and attempted to have added to the list myself and other 'critical Maori commentators', and current and past gang members who worked with this particular community to deliver social services.  Officials from the Minister's office and MoJ attempted to block our inclusion on the list and if not for Te Puni Kokiri officials standing their ground and persuading the then Minister for Maori Affairs (firmly supported by Dame Tariana Turia) were we eventually invited, thus ensuring a range of Maori voices were heard on the day.  But it would be wrong to think that 'we' won: when MoJ summary of the main points of discussion was released some weeks later the vast majority of issues raised by the critical Maori caucus was excluded; including repeated concerns expressed about the lack of Maori input into the development of crime control policy, racist/biased policing, overuse of imprisonment, and other significant, structural failures on the part of the formal justice system.

Since then a number of other similar incidents have been experienced by Indigenous scholars residing in Settler-Colonial jurisdictions with whom I am in regular contact.  These individuals have discussed a number of incidents, some historical, some more recent, that mirror my own experiences.  Our common experience of the white privileged, arrogant conduct of some members of the Policy Industry and criminology, has made me realise that in all our critical analysis of the many and varied Colonial Projects that are deployed in Settler-Colonial contexts to subjugate Indigenous peoples, one that requires our urgent empirical attention on our part, is the criminal justice/criminology nexus.  The rationale for this claim, this empirical call to arms, so to speak, is quite straightforward: it is essential that we expose the nefarious effects of the parasitic relationship between members of Western, Authoritarian Criminology and members of the Policy Industry, given the hegemony this nexus has on the development of empirical knowledge about Indigenous crime.

The Provocations
  • The parasitic relationship between Eurocentric Criminology and the Policy Industry is one of the most affective, ‘subtle’ colonial projects deployed in settler-colonial contexts to subjugate Indigenous peoples.
  • We must become more aggressive in our critique of, and challenge to, this relationship if we are to decrease the damage it does to our communities.

What follows represents the tentative explorations of two questions that are of increasing concern to Indigenous scholars (and our critical, non-Indigenous colleagues), namely:
  • What role, if any, does the Criminal Justice-Criminology nexus (or relationship) play in the Settler Colonial subjugation of Indigenous peoples?
  • What should we do about it?

Part of the rationale for privileging empirical analysis of the nexus between white criminology and the policy industry, is historical – the historical relationship between a) coloniality, b) criminal justice and c) the academy.  Biko Agozino has effectively exposed that the discipline of criminology developed significantly under colonialism, and was an essential player in the colonial states subjugation of Indigenes.  You cannot explain the contemporary moment; the ways in which peoples are subjugated, without reference to the past.  In the words of Hayden (2004):

"Rather than distance ourselves from the past, as the centrist amnesiacs would counsel, perhaps we should finally peel back the scabs and take a closer look at why all the wounds haven’t healed". 

Colonial Projects in the Neo-Colonial Context
As the Nigerian criminologist Biko Agozino has demonstrated, criminal justice is one of the most potent Colonial Projects the Settler Colonial state utilises in its ongoing subjugation of Indigenous peoples.  One of its key functions is in assisting the state to ‘control’ what it defines as significant wicked problems, i.e., Indigenous over-representation, which is invariable portrayed in governmental discourse as a ‘fact of criminal justice life’.  It is a ‘social fact’ so significant that that it poses a threat to social order that requires meaningful, authoritative, indeed at times violent, intervention in relation to the practice of crime control.

And if you think my use of the term ‘violent’ is perhaps overstating things a little, all I need say in response is ‘the Tuhoe raids’. 

In New Zealand the ‘Maori problem’ is described in governmental and media discourse as being so significant that our crime problem would disappear if we could significantly reduce it, because, according to an ACT party member quoted in the Otago Daily Times in 2012, we are “full of crime”. 

If I may I would like to interrupt the flow of my analysis to divert to an interesting argument I heard posited by a young Maori scholar at an International Indigenous law conference held in Brisbane in June last year: Kiritapu Allen made what I think is a highly provocative, but accurate statement that given the violence and disfuntionality that permeates criminal justice in New Zealand, perhaps including the term ‘system’ in its title is somewhat misleading.  Instead, we should view it as a series of inter-linked incidents of violence, coated in the stink of colonialism. 

Much of the criminal justice system response to the ‘wicked problem’ of Maori over-representation comes in the form of structural violence, including, but not exclusively
  • militaristic-style policing strategies;
  • biased application of public disorder offences and discretionary powers;
  • the criminal justice-led large-scale removal of Indigenous children and youth to detention centres; and
  • and of Indigenous adults to the prison system – a form of displacement and confinement that O’Connor calls the ‘New Removals’ and Chris Cunneen ‘the new stolen generation’, with reference to the Australian context. 

I consider these ‘strategies’ as examples of overt violence perpetrated by the criminal justice sector against Indigenous peoples. 

Then we have a range of subtle, insidious strategies of containment and control, including:
  • the aforementioned strategy of blocking Maori participation in forums that impact the design of policy;
  • reliance on in-house Maori ‘experts’ to direct the development of policies for Maori, in place of meaningful engagement with Maori communities and Maori ‘experts’
  • meaningless consultation exercises undertaken after policies and interventions have been designed and signed off by a CE, Minister or Cabinet;
  • reliance on Maori/Aboriginal strategies that have no impact on an agencies bottom-line, and that make little or no reference to the socio-economic marginalisation of Indigenous peoples and used by agencies to market themselves as ‘culturally aware’;
  • restricting or blocking access to sites of justice and undertaking independent, empirical research, and blocking research on criminal justice issues of importance to Maori, including bias, experiences of policing and imprisonment;
  • arrogant dismissal of Maori knowledge and programmatic response to social harm in preference for importing theories, policies, legislation and interventions from western, high crime contexts;
  • privileging academic literature and research on Indigenous issues and peoples carried out by white, western, administrative/authoritarian criminologists, whilst ignoring the Indigenous research lexicon; and
  • indigenisation, or the inappropriate utilisation of Indigenous symbols, language and cultural artifacts to ‘sex up’ imported, ineffective crime control policies, like boot camps or Multi-Systemic Therapy, that are then forced upon our communities, and which do little to alleviate our over-representation in the criminal justice system. 

The white privileged criminological academy isn’t much better.  The range of disempowering behaviours perpetrated by its members is just as extensive, including:
  • confine their critical criminological gaze to issues relating to state-defined problem populations, more often than not people of colour and working class youth, without significant engagement with individuals or communities from these populations – in other words they privilege the use of non-engaging methodologies; a reliance on statistical analysis and restrictive surveys at the expense of actually talking with brown people;
  • confine their uncritical criminological gaze to state-run justice processes, policies, legislation and issues that the state deems important, for which they receive generous remuneration via the establishment of parasitic contractual relations;
  • limit their ‘critical analysis’ of state systems and policies on programme effectiveness and evaluation largely devoid of historical context and the wider political economy of the state’s dominance of ‘justice’ in the neo-liberal moment – in other words their research and analysis is devoid of critical consideration of minor issues like genocide, coloniality, land grabs, destruction of key social and political institutions, biological and cultural warfare, etc; and
  • empower themselves through the veil of scientism, an ideological construct that privileges the Eurocentric, supposedly ‘enlightened’ approach to measuring the Indigenous life-world, whilst denigrating Indigenous (and other) forms of knowledge that seek to explain the social world from the perspective of the Other.

Doing Imperialism Quietly?  The Criminal Justice-Criminology Nexus as Structural Violence
No longer able to attain political legitimacy by deploying overtly racist, assimilationist strategies such as the forced removal of our children in militaristic fashion, least it results in international condemnation, or banning our language and cultural practices through legislation, or replicating the physical genocide of the Indian Wars carried out in Canada and the U.S, or the killing times in Australia, the neo-liberal settler state and its supporting institutions of the body politic, in particular the white privileged academy, nevertheless continues to deploy structural violence against Indigenous peoples.  This comes in the form of  the development and application of racist criminological knowledge and interventions, made possible via collusion between white privileged academics and the policy sector.

This brings me full circle, to the stories I told at the beginning of the presentation.  How is it that policy workers and white privileged criminologists continue to produce bullshit about Maori and other Indigenous peoples?  More importantly, how is it that this bullshit still holds sway with the policy sector?  Answering these questions in full would require a whole presentation of its own.  So I’ll restrict myself to just 2 key reasons: a) because of their arrogance, related to a) because we are too nice. 

Doing Things for Ourselves
There are a number of practical, administrative responses either underway or that should be considered, including:
Research Project – Racism in the Academy;
International Journal of Indigenous Justice (IJIJ);
International Congress of Indigenous Justice (ICIJ);

All of these activities were discussed in the Indigenous Criminologist blog released on 31/7/2014.  

We urgently require a major change in our approach to the trash the Policy Industry and its parasitic partner, Authoritarian Criminology, produce about Indigenous peoples.  We need to become more aggressive in our approach to exposing the racism and white, colonial privilege that underpins their approach to the ‘Indigenous problem’.  Only by challenging the criminal justice-criminology nexus in an aggressive manner, and through the development and application of a Critical Indigenous Criminology, will we challenge the hegemony the members of this 'axis of bullshit' hold over the development of supposedly ‘legitimate’ knowledge about 'the Indigenous experience'.  Perhaps then we might finally have a say in the development of policies, legislation and interventions that reflect our approaches to dealing with social harm and our lived experiences, rather than the exotic fantasies of white privileged policy workers and academics. 

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