The Habilitation Centre Ideal: Carceral Contradictions and Alternatives to Prison in Aotearoa New Zealand


  • Liam Martin



Carceral, Hyper-incarceration, Habilitation centre, Roper report, Decarceration


This article examines the potential role of ‘habilitation centres’ in the Labour government’s attempts to reduce the prison population, starting with the recent recommendations of an expert panel who called for the ‘gradual replacement of most prisons with community-based habilitation centres’. I trace this idea to the Roper report in the 1980s, showing how its emergence in Aotearoa New Zealand was shaped by problematic models of community corrections developed in the United States, with the habilitation centre articulated as a political compromise at a time of neoliberalisation and growing calls for Māori self-determination in criminal justice. Drawing on insights from Foucault and the broader field of carceral studies—though leaving the theory largely in the background—I spotlight the contradictions of the habilitation centre and other prison alternatives that rely on creating new sites of carceral confinement in the community. The analysis points to the dangers of a national network of habilitation centres being developed to extend, rather than replace, the existing system of hyper-incarceration.


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