‘It only takes two thinking people to break that cycle’

by Clare de Lore / 22 October, 2015

Greg Newbold. Photo/Martin Hunter

Criminologist Greg Newbold has plenty to say about family dysfunction and female role models.

Greg Newbold shrugs off the suggestion that his latest research on crime in New Zealand is in­evitably going to cause controversy. The convicted drug dealer turned criminologist is putting the finishing touches to Crime, Law and Justice in New Zealand. Due for publication next year, Newbold’s book examines crime trends in New Zealand since the 1950s.

The 64-year-old is a far cry from a typical academic, not just because of his criminal past. Despite a brain haemo­­­rr­hage a few years ago, and operations on troubling joints, Newbold exudes a raw physical energy, which he burns off by keeping active, including tango dancing with his wife Lucy.

Political correctness has bypassed the professor whose research findings include highlighting a big increase in crime being committed by women – both white-collar and violent crime.

Why are New Zealand women becoming more violent?

I think it has to do with the whole ethic of pro-activeness, which is now a female or feminist trait. It’s popular even among non-feminist women to be more feminist, more assertive than ever before. These are working-class women who are influenced by the many depictions of female action heroines, such as Xena Warrior Princess, Cagney and Lacey – there’s a whole list. Even Game of War where you have a big-titted beauty who’s kicking arse – it’s an identity for young women, sub-14 years old, who have no role models. This becomes their role model and thus you get the beating to death by three 14-year-olds of Kenneth Pigott in Waitara, and a whole raft of other terrible crimes girls have committed.

It is a particular problem in the Maori community, not only in the home, but also in schools. It is not restricted to the Maori community, but there are statistics in my book that show rates of violence among Maori towards children and towards women are many times greater than in the Pakeha or Asian communities.

Do you expect controversy when the book is published?

Not really. All my figures are from government agencies and publications so it won’t come as a surprise to anybody except people who are in denial. It will never change as long as people deny what is obvious and as long as people make excuses for it. The main thing is to face facts.

Greg Newbold in 1982, after doing an MA in jail.

What’s the solution?

You have to stop family violence, stop them being abused and being exposed to the kind of numbing, corrupting influences that destroy people’s life chances and give them perverse role models to follow.

You have a combination of far higher levels of drinking and alcoholism, far higher levels of serial parenting, far higher child pregnancy, far higher levels of child abuse and neglect, which has an inter-generational impact. Children who are abused and uneducated and poor tend to grow up the same way as their parents. That is the cycle that needs to be broken. In the end, it’s not complicated – it only takes two thinking people to break that cycle. If you have to be told by a government agency how to treat your kids properly, you will never know.

You ended up in prison for selling Class A drugs despite a seemingly good start in life – what was your childhood like?

I had a father who was extremely moral, upright, highly respected by his friends. He had rigorous traditional values. My mother was a loving, model parent as well. She was one of the founders of the Playcentre movement. I always read a lot. The very first book I ever read in standard one was The Adventures of the Wishing Chair by Enid Blyton. I was about eight and I read it cover to cover. I was so proud of myself. Every Christmas Mum would buy us a book as part of our stocking. She encouraged us to read, and I would read encyclopaedias over and over. Books on dinosaurs and cavemen too. I won the ASB Bank essay compe­tition in 1961, when I was 10, with a piece called “The Adventures of a Penny”. It was about the life of a penny, what it liked happening, how much it disliked smelly pockets. I won a ­10-shilling book voucher and with that I bought a book called Pre­historic Man by Augusta and Burian with beautiful paintings of cavemen all through it. Mum put in the balance I needed to buy it and that Christmas my present was the companion volume Pre­historic Animals.

Sounds like a good start in life, but it didn’t last, did it?

Mum descended into alcoholism when I was about 11 and the marriage broke up. Mum started getting boozy boyfriends in and that was it really.

I was suspended from Rangitoto College and then expelled but I had my School Cert and UE so I didn’t care. I then went to prison in 1971 for culti­vating cannabis and again in 1975 for selling heroin. I did five-and-a-half years of a seven-and-a-half year sentence. By the time I went to Paremoremo, I had a BA. I got my MA in prison, and got first-class honours. I found that if I worked hard, I could be really good. When I got the MA I thought “there is a PhD in me”. I liked academic life and I knew if I got that, I would probably get a job. A lot of people were getting jobs with MAs, so that was my plan when I got out of prison.

After I got my PhD I applied for a lot of jobs overseas but I didn’t have a chance with a criminal record. Then I got offered three jobs in New Zealand and ended up here at Canterbury.

What do you read?

I nearly always read non-fiction, usually history. Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs, a memoir about his childhood, is fantastic. He also wrote Dry, about his alcoholism.

One of my favourite authors, Peter Ackroyd, is writing a series of books on the history of Britain. My wife Lucy is Chinese, and I’ve read both Mao: the Unknown Story (by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday) and Mao: the Real Story (by Alexander V Pantsov and Steven Levine). I recently read Lydia Bradey’s excellent first-class book Going Up Is Easy. It’s ­fantastic – she is such a gutsy woman. Every woman should read it.

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