Dynamics, Manifestations and Performance of Violence in an Adult Male Prison in Aotearoa New Zealand

Dr Katherine Doolin2

2Faculty of Law, University of Auckland

Aotearoa New Zealand has a large, and growing, prison population of whom the majority are Māori. This is a significantly disproportionate level of incarceration – Māori make up over half of those in prison despite only comprising around 15 per cent of the population (Department of Corrections, March 2019). Recent media coverage, and government and independent reports indicate that violence within prisons in Aotearoa remains a pressing and topical concern. Gang affiliations and gang violence within prison walls, incidents of self-harm and deaths of inmates, allegations of prisoner mistreatment, among other issues, have been reported. With this in mind, the paper explores the dynamics, manifestations and performance of prison violence in order to understand why, when and how violence occurs within prisons in Aotearoa. In so doing, the paper presents preliminary findings from a research study carried out at an adult male prison in Aotearoa for those on remand and sentenced. The aims of the paper are two-fold. First, the paper seeks to analyse the key causes of violence within the prison and, as part of this enquiry, questions whether violence is to do with the situational context and use of authority in the prison, or is a part of the way masculinity, self-expression and identity are performed in prison. Secondly, the paper considers the impact of violence and victimisation on inmates, prison officers, and the wider prison community, and reflects on what is needed to help create and maintain a safe and secure environment in prison.


Dr Katherine Doolin is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand, having previously taught at the University of Kent and University of Birmingham in the UK. She has also been a Visiting Scholar at the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, funded by the British Academy. Katherine has published in the areas of criminal law and criminal justice, with a particular focus on restorative justice, therapeutic jurisprudence, youth justice, and criminal liability for parental omissions.

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