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About the book
  • Published: 4 March 2011
  • ISBN: 9781869796938
  • Imprint: Random House New Zealand
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 288

Little Criminals


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A unique and powerful look at a New Zealand experiment in social welfare gone wrong

A unique and powerful look at a New Zealand experiment in social welfare gone wrong.

From the late 1950s to the mid 1980s, when most of them were closed down, the New Zealand government maintained 26 residences for children and teenagers. Some of those children had the bad fortune to come from families with large numbers of children and who couldn't cope financially. Plucking a child out and putting him in a home to ease the burden was seen as a solution. Other children in came from profoundly dysfunctional backgrounds or were profoundly dysfunctional themselves. Could putting them all together in close quarters, supervised by staff with mostly inadequate training, ever deliver a positive outcome?

In this powerfully written book David Cohen, who himself spent time at Epuni Boy's Home in the 1970s, argues not. He tracks down former residents and staff members, many of whom argue that boys'-home stints led boys to, rather than away from, lives of crime. It also led some into abuse.
Evocatively and originally written, Cohen's research takes him back to the era of moral panic about juvenile delinquency that drove the creation of the homes and traces the sea change in ideas about the care of troubled adolescents, especially Maori, who were hugely over-represented in the muster, that spelled their eventual demise.

Totally gripping, it is a unique insider account of a failed experiment.

  • Pub date: 4 March 2011
  • ISBN: 9781869796938
  • Imprint: Random House New Zealand
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 288

About the Author

David Cohen

David Cohen is a Wellington-based writer and journalist whose work has appeared frequently in publications in New Zealand and abroad. An anthology, Greatest Hits: A Quarter Century of Journalistic Encounters, Cultural Fulminations and Notes on Lost Cities, was published in 2014. The English writer Julie Burchill hailed the collection as 'a brilliant album'. The New Zealand Herald described it as 'fearless'.
Cohen's experience as a food critic and his longstanding interest in Jewish subjects (he contributed a chapter to Jewish Lives In New Zealand published by Godwit) led him to collaborate with the Auckland restaurateur Yael Shochat on Ima Cuisine: An Israeli Mother’s Kitchen (2016).
Cohen’s work has often been prompted by personal experiences and circumstances. A Perfect World is a combined family memoir and investigative journalism on the subject of autism, based on his experience as the father of an autistic son; while Little Criminals uses Epuni Boys' Home as a basis to study New Zealand’s now-scandalous residential juvenile criminal system of the 1950s to 1980s. The book would provide the basis for a documentary of the same name.
Roy Richard Grinker, a professor of anthropology at George Washington University and the author of Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism, has praised Cohen for his ‘erudition and literary elegance’, calling him a ‘gifted writer’ who ‘moves so gracefully across narratives, scientific discourses, artistic genres, historical periods and continents that you hardly notice the full force of his prose until the conclusion when, suddenly, it hits you: Cohen has made us see autism as an essential part of the human condition.’
Man Booker Prize short lister Lloyd Jones wrote of Little Criminals: ‘David Cohen has taken an important piece of social history and unpacked it in a highly imaginative way. It is completely engrossing.’

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