Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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The Power of Penal Populism: Public Influences on Penal and Sentencing Policy from 1999 to 2008

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posted on 2021-11-09, 22:21 authored by Bartlett, Tess

This thesis explains the rise and power of penal populism in contemporary New Zealand society. It argues that the rise of penal populism can be attributed to social, economic and political changes that have taken place in New Zealand since the postwar years. These changes undermined the prevailing penalwelfare logic that had dominated policymaking in this area since 1945. It examines the way in which 'the public' became more involved in the administration of penal policy from 1999 to 2008. The credibility given to a law and order referendum in 1999, which drew attention to crime victims and 'tough on crime' discourse, exemplified their new role. In its aftermath, greater influence was given to the public and groups speaking on its behalf. The referendum also influenced political discourse in New Zealand, with politicians increasingly using 'tough on crime' policies in election campaigns as it was believed that this was what 'the public' wanted when it came to criminal justice issues. As part of these developments, the thesis examines the rise of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, a unique law and order pressure group that advocates for victims' rights and the harsh treatment of offenders. The Trust became an increasingly authoritative voice in both the public and political arena, as public sentiments came to overrule expert knowledge in the administration of penal policy. Ultimately, it argues that the power of penal populism is so strong in New Zealand that attempts to resist it are likely to come to little, unless these forces that brought it to prominence can be addressed and negated. To date, this has not happened.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Master of Arts

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Social and Cultural Studies


Stanley, Elizabeth; Pratt, John