The Production of Aggression: Towards an ecological understanding of prison violence in Aotearoa New Zealand

Dr Armon Tamatea1

1University Of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand


Prisons are places where individuals at high risk offenders are contained in high concentrations. They are also places where violence and victimization are also high frequency events. However, traditional prison violence research has resulted in the emergence of one-sided pictures that reflect administrative concerns. Empirical investigations yield mountains of data about identification of correlates with violent incidents, but very little information about the settings themselves or the events that take place in them. For instance, in many studies, ‘violence’ isn’t well-defined let alone the nature of the prisons where violence takes place. This presentation argues that a more rounded holistic understanding of prison violence is needed. An ecological perspective views prisons systemically and allows for an appreciation of the roles of various actors who occupy different locations within these ecosystems and who exert different types of influence or resistance that impact on the social climate, physical design, and the cause and control of violence. This presentation will also describe an ecological research agenda in New Zealand as well as the challenges and possibilities of conducting work in this way.


Armon Tamatea PhD, PGDipPsych(Clin), (Rongowhakāta; Te Aitanga-A-Māhaki) is a clinical psychologist who served as a clinician and senior research advisor for the Department of Corrections (New Zealand) before being appointed senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Waikato where he also acted as director of the post-graduate clinical psychology training programme. He has worked extensively in the assessment and treatment of violent and sexual offenders, and contributed to the design and implementation of an experimental prison-based violence prevention programme for high-risk offenders diagnosed with psychopathy. His research interests include psychopathy, New Zealand gang communities, and exploring culturally-informed approaches to offender management. Armon is project lead for Nga Tūmanakotanga – a long-term funded project that aims to reduce prison violence in Aotearoa – and divides his professional time between research, teaching, supervision, clinical practice, and serves on a number of advisory committees in the criminal justice arena.