Book review: Crime Law and Justice in New Zealand

Greg Newbold (2016)
Publisher: Routledge

Reviewed by Darius Fagan
Chief Probation Officer, Department of Corrections

Reviewer biography:

Darius Fagan has worked for the New Zealand Department of Corrections since 2001. He started his career as a probation officer and believes in the important role probation officers can play in helping offenders change their lives. Darius is passionate about designing practice that adheres to evidence-based concepts that can be applied by probation officers in their day-to-day work.

Greg Newbold’s latest book Crime Law and Justice in New Zealand is a historical account of the changes in law and policy that have established the justice landscape in New Zealand today. It takes a look at developments from when New Zealand was first established as a colony to where we are today.

Newbold contextualises his book in the first chapter by referencing the international trend of falling crime rates, observations of this trend in New Zealand and some of the theories relating to why global crime rates have been falling. The book is divided into nine chapters each giving some historical and relatively current information regarding the New Zealand justice system. Each chapter includes a number of anecdotes or examples of events or crimes which had an influence on changes in justice policy or practice. This makes the book an interesting read as these accounts give life to the decisions that were subsequently made by law and policy makers. The book also provides a number of references to people who had a significant influence on shaping law and justice practices.

Four of the nine chapters are dedicated to analysis and legal developments in the crime categories of dishonesty, sex, violence, and drugs. There are three chapters which discuss the social aspects of crime, specifically: youth and ethnicity, gender, and gangs and organised crime. All of the chapters build a picture of how particular crime categories have come to be policed or punished and give social context to the crime landscape in New Zealand.

Likely to be of interest to staff at Corrections is the final chapter of the book, Corrections and Crime Control. In the section subtitled Contemporary Corrections some references are made to the department’s recent Creating Lasting Change strategy and scepticism is evident regarding the likelihood of any progress being made, particularly in respect to Working Prisons.

There is some optimism expressed about the effectiveness of the reintegrative approach taken by Salisbury Street Foundation but this is the only reference to the many reintegrative programmes and interventions currently operating.

What is missing from this chapter is any reference to the significant changes brought in through the Reducing Re-offending and Creating Lasting Change strategies. It is a missed opportunity to identify that in the last five years access to rehabilitation, education and employment programmes for prisoners and community-based offenders has increased significantly. The number of reintegrative placements available, similar to those provided by Salisbury Street, has also increased. The effectiveness of recent strategies is not analysed in any great detail so progress in reducing re-offending for those on community sentences, and for people released following sentences of more than two years imprisonment is not acknowledged in any way. Presumably the sentiments expressed in the book are based on what is available in popular media which is often critical of Corrections.

Despite the views expressed regarding Corrections, the book provides a useful historical account of many aspects of the New Zealand justice system. The anecdotes and references to significant events in New Zealand add useful context to the drivers behind current policy and legislation. The book is likely to be helpful for people working in the justice system who wish to understand more about the history of crime and justice in New Zealand.