Those who commit crime and end up in the justice system are often marginalised from mainstream society long before their offending began. Lord Bingham, former Chief Justice for Britain and Wales between 1996 and 2000 describes the personal profile of a typical offender like this:
“He is usually male, often of low intelligence, and addicted to drugs or alcohol, frequently from an early age. His family history will often include parental conflict and separation; a lack of parental supervision; harsh or erratic discipline; and evidence of emotional, physical or sexual abuse.
At school he will have achieved no qualification of any kind, and will probably have been aggressive and troublesome, often leading to his exclusion or truancy. The background will be one of poverty, poor housing, instability, association with delinquent peers and unemployment”.
This description applies equally well to most of those who end up in prison in New Zealand, with the additional observation that over 50% of our prisoners are Maori.
Profile of gang members in New Zealand
According to the Corrections Department, approximately 30% of prisoners in New Zealand belong to or are associated with gangs, and 70% of those gang members are Maori. A survey of Mongrel Mob members in 1998 found…
- 95% were unemployed,
- 93% were long term unemployed (six months or more)
- 87% had been unemployed for six years or more
- 10% had been unemployed for 10 years or more
- 90% had no educational qualifications or vocational skills
- 82% of the men and 66% of the women left school at age 15 or under
In The History of Gangs in New Zealand, Dr Jarrod Gilbert (2013) argues that
“unskilled, uneducated and unwanted…, the black (criminal) economy was not just an attractive choice for many gang members and their families. To all intents and purposes it was the only choice.”
The commonalities between victims and offenders
In the tough-on-crime populist narrative, much of the discussion has been about putting victims and their rights at the centre of the justice system. The profile of the typical prisoner suggests that many, if not most offenders, were victimised as children, long before they ended up in prison. In other words, they were victims before they became offenders. And they became offenders because when they were being abused, neglected and victimised as children, their needs were often not met.
This is supported by statistics from Crime and Safety Surveys in New Zealand which are conducted every few years.
The victimisation of Maori
- not only are Maori over-represented in prison, they are also more likely to be victims of of crime – including interpersonal violence, burglary, vehicle, and theft and damage offences;
- Maori women experience higher rates of victimisation than Maori men
- Maori are twice as likely to be the victims of violent crime as other New Zealanders
- Māori are three times more likely than other New Zealanders to be chronic victims of crime (defined as five or more incidents in a 12 month period)
- 3% of adults experienced five or more offences or 53% of all crime.
The risk of victimisation
The survey shows that those who at the greatest risk of being a victim of crime are:
- Young – between age 15 and 29
- Unemployed or financially stressed
- Renting or living in a socio-economically deprived area
- Living in a single parent household
Research also shows that youth who are victims of domestic violence are at risk for a variety of adversities including behavioural, emotional, physical, and cognitive functioning and long-term developmental problems. The single greatest predictor of youth offending is prior victimisation. See: Victimization, Psychological Distress and Subsequent Offending Among Youth