Expert and public narratives on crime in New Zealand: gaps and opportunities to communicate reform

Prisoners Crime prevention Crime reduction Prisons Crime New Zealand

This paper reports on the first phase of a larger research project looking at how to reframe the public conversation about crime and justice in Aotearoa New Zealand. In this report, the authors summarise research they have undertaken to understand how experts understand and frame criminal justice, how the public also does so, and where the opportunities for building new, more effective narratives may lie.


  • Avoid the word unfair. People have different models of what unfair means. While for some people it means taking account of an individual's context, for others it means a uniform response to crime “e.g. you do the crime you do the time.” Even if you intend the first meaning, unless you spell that out, people may interpret it to mean the second. Instead, be concrete and specific about what you mean by unfairness, e.g. by explicitly talking about external factors that appear in the public narrative, such as a lack of drug, alcohol and mental health treatments
  • Avoid inagentive or passive language (e.g the number of Māori in prison rose) because it doesn’t help the public understand what or who caused the current situation or who could change it. Instead, name agents and describe their choices or behaviours and how they could make different choices. E.g People in the criminal justice system convicted more Māori than Pākehā for the same types of crime.


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