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Dark Side of Paradise: Explaining New Zealand's History of High Imprisonment

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 46 Issue: 4 Dated: July 2006 Pages: 541-560
John Pratt
Date Published
July 2006
20 pages
This paper identifies and explains the way in which cultural factors specific to New Zealand have contributed to its historically high rate of imprisonment.
The author argues that the same set of conditions that made New Zealand such an inclusionary society also made it an exclusionary society. Homogeneity and social cohesion were created and maintained through a rigidly controlled immigration policy that produced friendliness and hospitality toward those who met the narrow criteria of acceptability; however, it also bred suspicion and intolerance of those who did not conform to the society's criteria of acceptability. This latter cultural feature of New Zealand society fostered punitiveness toward those who had not conformed to community behavioral expectations. In the early 1980s, however, the tradition of cultural homogeneity was challenged by a massive social and economic restructuring by successive Labour and National Governments that pursued a neo-liberal reform program, although without a mandate from the electorate. New Zealand has since become a more heterogeneous and pluralistic society, due largely to significant increases in Asian immigration over the last 10 years. A sense of loss of cohesion and uniformity among traditional New Zealanders has led to an intensification of the use of imprisonment as a means of dealing with signs of disorder and instability, even though reported crime has been decreasing. It is as if the prison has become a symbol of reassurance and security in a society that has become more insecure and punitive as the vision of the paradise that persisted for so long has become threatened. 53 references