Valued, independent organisations or ‘little fingers of the state’?: The position and influence of NGOs in criminal justice in New Zealand

Dr Alice  Mills2
2University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in New Zealand have an enduring history of providing services for people leaving prison, and are the current providers of most post-release services. Since the ‘contract crunch’ (McCarthy 1995: 8) of the early 1990s and the widespread introduction of competitive purchase-of-service contracts, NGOs in New Zealand have largely been required to accept ‘government-specified standards and outputs’ (Tennant, 2007: 126). This has led to concerns that they have become the ‘little fingers of the state’ (Nyland, 1993) and considerable frustration amongst NGOs themselves with the state’s apparent reluctance to recognise their expertise, strengths and autonomy. Furthermore, NGOs in criminal justice have faced the additional challenge of operating in a climate that has been dominated by penal populism and has been hostile to groups involved in helping offenders. Drawing on several research projects, this paper will examine relationship between the NGO sector and the state in criminal justice in New Zealand, with a particular focus on organisations that provide post-release housing and support. It will further examine the political position of NGOs and consider the potential opportunities to strengthen their role and increase their influence in New Zealand society, given the current government’s desire to reduce both recidivism and the prison population.


Dr Alice Mills is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland. She has conducted several research projects examining the role and position of non-governmental organisations and on the importance of stable housing for people released from prison. She is currently leading a 3-year study into the role of stable housing in reducing reoffending, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Marsden Fund. In 2018, she has held Visiting Fellowships at the Universities of Vermont, Birmingham and Turku.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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