A critical appraisal of responses to Maori offending


This article critically analyses the role that criminological theory and specific policy formulations of culture play in the New Zealand state’s response to the over-representation of Maori in the criminal justice system. Part one provides an overview of the changing criminological explanations of, and responses to, Maori offending in New Zealand from the 1980s onwards and how these understandings extended colonialist approaches to Maori and crime into the neo-colonial context. In particular, we chart the shift in policy development from theorising Maori offending as attributable to loss of cultural identity to a focus on socioeconomic and institutional antecedents and, finally, through the risk factors, assessment, and criminogenic needs approaches that have gained prominence in the current policy context. In part two, the focus moves to the strategies employed by members of the academy to elevate their own epistemological constructions of Maori social reality within the policy development process. In particular, the critique scrutinises recent attempts to portray Indigenous responses to social harm as “unscientific” and, in part, responsible for the continuing over-representation of Maori in New Zealand’s criminal justice system. The purpose of this analysis is to focus the critical, criminological gaze firmly on the activities of policy makers and administrative criminologists, to examine how their policies and approaches impact on Maori as an Indigenous people.

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