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The Dark Side of Paradise

1 July 2005

The Dark Side of Paradise

The contradiction between New Zealanders’ world-renowned friendliness and their long-standing intolerance to crime and criminals is explored in Professor John Pratt’s inaugural lecture at Victoria University next week.

In The Dark Side of Paradise: Explaining New Zealand’s History of High Imprisonment, Professor Pratt examines why a people who are known worldwide for their hospitable nature are so punitive and intolerant in their responses to crime.

Professor Pratt will deliver his lecture in the University’s Hunter Council Chamber on Tuesday 5 July.

In 2004, with a prison population of more than 7,300 and an imprisonment rate of 179 per 100,000 people, New Zealand’s rate is easily the second highest in the developed world. But this is not a new phenomenon with reports from the 1930s, 50s and 80s all showing New Zealand has a detention rate that is consistently higher than other countries.

Professor Pratt says the last decade has seen populist forces coalesce around punishment as an issue, resulting in new sentencing laws and growing pressure on judges that have lead to dramatic rises in the prison population.

“While four new prisons are being built at a cost of $800 million, prisoners are still being held two to a cell, or are being held in police and court cells because the prisons are full.

“There are plenty of other illustrations of this intolerance and vindictiveness that has always been present in our society but which now seems to have reached new heights with the recent vigilante activities at Blackball on the West Coast and Whitby in Wellington. Parliament has also passed the Prisoners and Victims Claims Act, prompted by public consternation and outrage - not that prisoners could be ill-treated by the State but that they could actually be compensated for it.”

Professor Pratt says when Finland’s imprisonment rate was at levels similar to New Zealand’s it was seen as a national disgrace and a powerful coalition of academics, judges, civil servants and sympathetic Justice Ministers worked to bring it down.
”There is no likelihood of this happening in New Zealand, despite the great human and economic cost of locking people up in prison. Here, it has become a symbol of reassurance and security in a society that has become more insecure and punitive as the vision of paradise it was thought to be has clouded over.

“Prison conditions and prison levels represent something more than the way criminals are punished. They too are barometers of a country's cultural traits and values. In New Zealand they represent the dark side of paradise.”

Media are welcome to attend the lecture at 6pm on Tuesday 5 July in the Hunter Council Chamber, Level 2, Hunter Building, Kelburn Campus.

Members of the public interested in attending the lecture should email:


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