2 Decolonization and Criminology

Charmine Cortez

Title: Decolonization and Criminology: An Analysis of Knowledge Production


Mainstream criminology plays a significant role in the development of our current policies and legislation. This chapter evaluates the influence of a settler-colonial ideology on the shaping of the current criminological structure accepted by academia and, through this latter, on what this means for the Justice System (JS). Using case studies from Southern, Indigenous, and Africana perspectives, this chapter reflects on the entrenchment of contemporary colonial and imperialist processes in the settler-colonial State and how this influences the production of criminological knowledge and, through it, policy and legislation. This is a cycle that continuously harms the Indigenous peoples and other marginalized communities. By addressing the injustices and gaps within this aspect of knowledge production, I argue the need for a ‘Post-Colonial Criminology’. Such a discipline would better reflect and respond to society’s views on the precepts of crime, justice, and punishment.


The theory offers the means and opportunity to analyze and critique our understanding of the world. Theories are shaped by our realities, belief systems, culture, and worldview. For researchers within the increasingly interdisciplinary field of criminology, the study of crime and criminal behaviour is to engage with a tremendous body of scientific research with the aim of providing a rational explanation to support their theories. If developed effectively, such theories generate potential strategies for designing programs and impacting policies within the Justice System (Williams & McShane, 2018). A good theory can induce positive real-life consequences that improve our social, political, and economic conditions. Our current policies and legislations are almost inevitably guided in part by criminological philosophies. The fact that criminology is partly grounded in the past is what makes a move towards a Post-Colonial Criminology so important. It would consider the influence of socio-historical contexts on current theories and research, on criminal justice culture and society and trace the implications for policy, knowledge, and understanding.

The social and economic injustices towards Indigenous peoples and their current relations to the Canadian Justice System bear witness to the ideological implication that our current Justice System is set up to fail society’s Indigenous people in society and continuously imposes other factors of injustices on marginalized communities. These injustices do not occur in a vacuum; they are brought about by systematic and structuralized forces that maintain the powerful Eurocentric and social-Darwinist ideology of imperialism and capitalism over time (e.g., see Agozino, 2021; McGuire & Palys, 2020; Monchalin, 2015). This paper will argue that the discipline of criminology in the settler-colonial State, is both complicit in and negatively affected by the current systems of oppression that criminalize certain groups. One way of dismantling these systems is to change society’s perceptions and views on crime and punishment. This involves finding alternatives to the way academics conduct research and creating a paradigm shift toward cultural and ideological enlightenment within the theoretical framework of mainstream criminology. This paper reflects on the powerful ideological ramifications of our current criminological structure and the harm it wreaks on marginalized communities through the Western Justice System. This paper also attempts to define what decolonization means to the discipline of criminology and what post-colonial criminology might look like. Case studies from diverse theoretical perspectives such as Southern, Indigenous, and African are used to help illustrate the need for a post-colonial model, which would better reflect society’s views and help shape new perceptions of crime and punishment within a broader framework of social justice.

Impact of Colonization

The colonial ideology was imposed on settler-colonial countries through systems of governance that are still reflected in our current institutional policies and practices (McGuire & Palys, 2020; Monchalin, 2015). Many scholars and academics have argued that these systems of governance are grounded in capitalist, imperialist, and patriarchal law-making principles that continue to shape the development of hierarchical systems through violence, social and political exclusion, oppression, economic exploitation, and control of culture (Kitossa, 2012; Agozino, 2004; Blagg & Anthony, 2019). Mcguire and Palys (2020) argue that State-imposed hierarchy maintains the colonial tactics of domination by perpetuating the fragmentation of Indigenous systems, legal traditions, and culture through policies such as The Indian Act (1985). Divisiveness plays a fundamental role in colonial-system processes by introducing the notion of “inferiority” and “superiority”. This establishes and maintains settler-colonial domination over the Other (i.e., Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities) while offering a justification or rationale for the associated dispossession, social and cultural exclusion, and policies of disenfranchisement (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019; Blagg & Anthony, 2019).

The internal and external processes imposed through the colonial system have indeed fostered a myriad of social, economic, and political intergenerational harms to marginalized communities. Westernized systems of crime control and criminology have failed to take these harms into account, which means the issues have festered and multiplied, resulting in significant over-representation of Indigenous peoples in all areas of the Justice System. To put this in context, according to Statistics Canada (2011), Indigenous peoples (those that have partaken in the survey and self-identify as Aboriginal identity) comprise 4.3 percent of the Canadian population. Of these, First Nations are 60.8%, Metis is 32.3%, Inuit are 4.2% of the total identified population, with another 2.7% having different or multiple Aboriginal backgrounds. This statistic has its limitations due to the historic “ethnic mobility” factor of Aboriginal backgrounds brought about and influenced by various social factors as well as legislation.  The Indian Act (Bill C-31), enacted in 1876, imposed a definition to regulate the conditions by which “Indian” status was accorded in certain Indigenous communities (Monchalin, 2015). Beyond, yet linked to criminology and criminal justice is the systematic exclusion and marginalization of Indigenous peoples in Canada. This is reflected in significantly higher rates of poverty (25.3%) (Citizens for Public Justice, 2015), unemployment, lack of access to education, substance use and abuse, and other factors that are direct consequences of genocidal harm and prolonged periods of systemic oppression (Monchalin, 2015).

These socio-economic factors are interrelated with the criminalization and victimization of Indigenous peoples by the westernized system of crime control and have led to over-representation in the courts and prisons. Poverty, lack of education, and unemployment are considered “disadvantages to access to a competent legal service” and make one “less likely be able to pay a fine and more likely to end up in jail” (Monchalin, 2015, p. 146). As of 2018/2019, Statistics Canada reported that Indigenous adults are 29% of federal admissions and 31% of provincial admissions, and both rates are higher in Saskatchewan (75%) and Manitoba (75%) where Indigenous peoples represent approximately 15% of the population. Despite representing 8.8% of the Canadian population, Indigenous youth represented 43% of admissions to correctional services; 47% of these were custody admissions and 40% community admissions.

According to Cunneen & Tauri (2019b), Indigenous people are more vulnerable and susceptible to victimization within the Justice System due to the ongoing colonialism, oppression, and associated legacies of traumatic experiences; thus, they are twice as likely to report as victims of violent crimes than non-Aboriginal people, and “six times more likely to be a victim of homicide, and at a higher risk of being victimized multiple times” (Monchalin, 2015; p. 145). As an extension of the historical imposition of colonial-patriarchal views amongst Indigenous communities, Indigenous women have become the most vulnerable population, with more repeated victims of violent assault than any non-Indigenous women in Canada, and these cycles of victimization frequently began in childhood (Monchalin, 2015, p. 145). The result is ongoing intergenerational violence, which places Indigenous women at risk of early involvement in the sex trade for sexual exploitation (Monchalin, 2015). According to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Final Report (2019), “in some communities, sexually exploited Indigenous children and youth make up more than 90% of the visible sex trade, even where Indigenous people make up less than 10% of the population” (p. 55). It is important to consider that such acts against Indigenous children and youth and the ensuing higher levels of criminalization and victimization are a direct result of the ongoing colonialist, discriminatory perceptions maintained through social and political institutions and rooted in westernized theorizing, which has labelled Indigenous peoples as the “problem” (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019b) most recently and as savages or dogs during Canada’s historical colonial period. Many Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars argue that westernized Justice Systems impose neo-colonial domination by victimizing and criminalizing certain groups, enforcing practices of subjugation through violence, coercive assimilation and, more specifically, control of the “Other”. (Blagg & Anthony, 2019).

Definition of Decolonization

Due to the deeply contextual nature of what decolonization is and why there exists a myriad of definitions for the term among both Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars around the world. Regardless of the various interpretations, these authors often advocate for decolonization as a response to colonial structures and ideologies seen to perpetually impose systemic and institutionalized inequalities (Blagg & Anthony, 2019; Monchalin, 2015; Agozino, 2019; Asadullah, 2021). Decolonization is a goal and process of liberation from the harms wrought by the colonial system (Monchalin, 2015). It involves undoing colonial ideologies contained in “intellectual, psychological, and physical forms and it won’t happen by magic, happenstance, or friendly agreement” (Asadullah, 2021, p. 3). This process must occur at both the micro and macro levels. Microforms of decolonization pertain to the “mind, body, restoration of language, culture and ceremonies, and praxis” whereas the macro form addresses the need for systemic and institutional change (Asadullah, 2021, p. 4). Decolonization scholars have ways of weaving these forms into their respective definitions. For example, Monchalin (2015) and Cunneen & Tauri (2019a) refer to decolonization as a process of unravelling and reversing colonialism in both its micro and macro forms. As for Agozino (2019) and Kitossa (2012), a focus on the macro-form of decolonization predominates, specifically within the production and institutionalization of criminological knowledge.

Decolonization can occur in a variety of disciplines and settings, such as the Criminal Justice System, which consists of the police, courts, and corrections. These institutions harbour settler-colonial sentiment and ideologies through structures that generate cycles of harm by perpetuating inequalities amongst Indigenous people and other marginalized communities (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a; Smith, 1999). It is thus imperative to identify and analyze what aspects of policies and practices set the stage for these societal harms. Criminology makes use of social science research methods to conceptualize and define crime and provide an effective crime control model for society. Agozino (2004) argues that “Criminology is a social science that served colonialism more directly than many other social sciences” (p. 343). Criminological theories, epistemology, and policies were developed through a Eurocentric lens that contemporary criminology continues to use while ignoring and continuously failing to reflect on the implications of criminology as a ‘control-freak’ discipline (Kitossa, 2012; Agozino, 2004).

Decolonizing criminology starts with acknowledging the discipline of criminology as a colonial tool both historically and today. Learning from history allows us to construct new foundations that thwart the legacy of colonialism. In Canada, this will also require the positioning of Indigenous peoples at the forefront of criminology; no longer as subjects of westernized research but as leaders, researchers, and scholars involved in knowledge and methodological production (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a; Smith, 1999). Decolonization requires moving away from the westernized approach of research methodologies, such as the rule of objectivity; domination over knowledge construction and dissemination; and impassive reasoning. As an alternative, incorporating a localized, holistic, empathetic and non-hierarchical approach guided by the Indigenous social and cultural context has been proposed (Asadullah, 2021). A decolonization framework requires building relationships, engaging in meaningful consultations with local community leaders and experts, facilitating an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed approach, and an elicited model that resonates within the cultural context (Asadullah, 2021).

Such structural and institutional changes provide a space in which the microform of decolonization begins. As post-colonial criminology re-defines ‘crime’ and the responses to it, more focus is put on acknowledging deeper societal harms that lead to ‘crime’ or criminal decision making and on implementing Indigenous contextual methods of healing. There is no hierarchical structure around the process of decolonization once macro and microforms begin to guide and inform each other and even occur simultaneously. Overall, the decolonization of criminology calls for the incorporation of Indigenous knowledge and approaches to social science research methods that reflect the experiences of Indigenous peoples with the Justice System and benefit them (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a).

Analyzing the Discipline of Criminology

The discipline of Western criminology developed around the early eighteenth to the late nineteenth century in Europe through the formulation of basic ideas about the criminal justice system and the processing of ‘crime’ and criminal behaviour (Williams & McShane, 2018). Mainstream criminological theories, such as Classical and Positivist, explain crime phenomena in different ways. The Classical school of thought focused on lawmaking and criminal processes and was premised on beliefs about criminal behaviour as an act of individual free will and rational decision making, whereas the Positivist school studied ‘criminal’ behaviour through social, biological, and psychological conditions believed to produce criminogenic effects in the individual. Both schools of thought were inspired by the Enlightenment period, during which scientific methodologies were utilized and legitimized through observation and objective reasoning to make sense of human realities and criminological knowledge (Williams & McShane, 2018; Smith, 1999). Thus, many post-colonial authors argue that the policies and practices within the Justice system, especially those influenced by such theories and methodologies, serve to further the development of the structure of race-class-gender dominance in Western societies (Smith, 1999; Agozino, 2019). Furthermore, the institutionalization of these theories, ‘proven’ using the traditional scientific method, served to justify the harmful implications for marginalized societies.

Decolonization scholars such as Agozino (2004), Smith (1999), and Kitossa (2012) argue that criminology is a fundamental feature of imperialism and colonial reason. First, the Enlightenment context was grounded in imperial policies and practices asserting moral claims related to the concept of “civilized” man that necessarily dehumanized those classified as “uncivilized” societies, and this led to racial categorization in criminology (Smith, 1999). Perceptions of who among the uncivilized is deemed a ‘criminal’ are not the same as with ‘normal’ (civilized) populations, and this anomaly implies the need for a stronger retributive or punitive response from state institutions. Secondly, the classifications and power relations between the West and the “Other” were also enforced through systems of governance to justify imperialism and colonialism (Blagg & Anthony, 2019). This all became synonymous with Westernized rational thinking and resulted in the rejection from criminology of the collective cultural knowledge and socio-economic and justice traditions of the “Other”. Cunneen and Tauri (2019b) argue that policy formation processes refer to administrative criminologies generated by authoritarian criminologists for empirical validation that in turn reinforces the theoretical and conceptual binary oppositions between the West and the “Other” (i.e., Offender/Victim, Crime/Criminal, and Moral/Immoral) and ingrains them in crime control policies (p. 25).

Reflecting on the social ills of the “Other” (marginalized communities) and how this interconnects with the over-representation of Indigenous peoples across the Justice System, it becomes evident that Western criminology administers a dominant, colonial concept of the criminal process that undermines Indigenous perspectives on crime (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019b). In this way, criminology is a “control-freak” discipline, one that legitimizes mechanisms of socio-economic oppression through systems of control and social exclusion (Agozino, 2004). Furthermore, criminological ways of knowing directly collide with imperialism when higher rates of Indigenous victimization and criminalization in the Justice System are viewed simply as an ‘outcome’ to unfortunate circumstances of history (Kitossa, 2012). Under Eurocentric criminological research, social ills and Indigenous communities become an “Aboriginal” problem. This perpetuates a further internalization of colonialism that allows non-Indigenous researchers to dominate the construction and dissemination of crime-control knowledge and reinforce inferior beliefs about Indigenous people by reducing them to statistical data belonging to the Justice system (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a; Smith, 1999).

Lastly, mainstream criminology maintains the relations of internalized colonialism and the political economy of criminalization by “avoiding the socio-historical critique and implications of its practice, epistemology, and theory” (Kitossa, 2012). The ongoing narrative positing crime as either an individual problem or constructed by specific socio-economic dysfunction (such as poverty or unequal opportunity) – or both – is contradictory to the theory of criminalization and a direct repercussion of imperialism/colonialism, racism, and other institutional/systemic modes of oppression (Agozino, 2019; Kitossa, 2012). Analyzing the current representation of black, indigenous, and people of colour criminologists within the academic discipline is one way to reflect on this issue. The predominance of white, authoritarian criminologists in the field and their inclination toward Western theorizing has limited alternative and oppositional theorizing on crime and criminal behaviour (Kitossa, 2012). Criminologists who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of colour are underrepresented in the field and continue to struggle in connecting a counter-colonial and counter-imperial discourse to the institutionalized Eurocentric normative criminology. As mentioned earlier, State-vested interests (economic and other) in the authoritarian/retributive approach to crime-control also means there will always be limitations to funding alternate research and developing decolonial alternatives, making these inadequate for full implementation within the Justice System. The key to a post-colonial criminological discipline is increased representation of Black, Indigenous, and criminologists of colour. Many postcolonial scholars and academics around the world have made efforts towards challenging the colonial bent of criminology, which is the subject of the next section.

Case Studies

One of the ways in which scholar(s) of criminology can determine and establish the principles and values of post-colonial criminology and its inner workings is by embracing an ‘alternative’ criminological model that challenges the foundations of colonialist and imperialist reason. The use of case studies from Southern, Indigenous, and Afrocentric Criminology provides the opportunity to seek knowledge from academic scholars and practitioners that offers insight into ‘colonized’ experiences, how the discipline of criminology works against the racialized “Other”, and lastly, to fathom alternative ways of research and methodologies that benefit the overall well-being of marginalized communities.

Southern Criminology

Southern Criminology situates the discipline of criminology in the context of Global North and Global South. The consequences and effects of colonialism link the power relations of the Global North to the colonized spaces of the Global South, both past and present (Blagg & Anthony, 2019; Carrington et. al., 2016). In terms of criminological thought, the Global North is guided by capitalist and imperialist ideologies that guarantee the exploitation, subjugation, and state violence, at the expense of the Global South. According to Carrington et. al. (2016), imposing Western imperial power in the “Southern” societies resulted in white-settler dominant communities that infringed upon local, ethnic, and tribal boundaries, and more importantly, exploited labour and depleted other southern resources. This all had a direct influence on societies now considered to be settler-colonial States; for example, legacies of colonialism in Canada and other post-colonial States such as Australia and New Zealand where cultural and political identity is often based on a European-settler worldview (Carrington et. al., 2016). Furthermore, the authoritative impact of Western imperial ideology ascribes social ills as consequences of the processes of industrialization, leading to the criminological theorizing of crime as an urban phenomenon rather than a direct consequence of imperialism/colonialism.

The criminological thought in Southern criminology identifies and acknowledges the global North’s linear and binary ways of thinking (i.e., developed/developing, first/second/third world). Post-colonial disciplines must confront such ideological limitations and consider the colonial experience when attempting to theorize contemporary social conflict (Blagg & Anthony, 2019; Carrington et. al., 2016). The criminological field would benefit from more inclusiveness as regards patterns of crime, justice, and security outside of the global North perspective. The global South plays a role in incorporating new and diverse perspectives into criminological research agendas with the aim to radicalize colonized societies, and in a way, democratizing the discipline of criminology through engagement with non-European perspectives. With this, post-colonial criminology utilizes the global South’s epistemologies, methodologies, and ontologies. This locates the westernized knowledge system in a historical context of imperialism, thus levelling the power imbalance in the knowledge production of the global North (Carrington et. al., 2016).

One of the ways Southern criminology confronts this power imbalance is through a paradigm shift in criminological thought toward a focus on concepts of power and class between the global North and South. Moosavi (2019) provides a non-Western-centric lens by highlighting the arguments of Syed Hussein Alatas, a Southern criminologist who aimed to decolonize the social sciences. Moosavi (2019) encourages Western criminologists to go beyond their current scope and engage with the works of Alatas and other Southern criminologists to understand criminological topics through a Southern lens. Analyzing the influence of Western crime control models in Southern societies, Alatas contends that non-Western intellectuals are without a voice and therefore in a state of ‘intellectual bondage,’ acquiescing to methods of knowledge production that maintain and perpetuate Western systems of control and exploitation (Moosavi, 2019). Furthermore, Alatas proposes a criminological focus on the ‘crimes of the powerful,’ which occur constantly but are often under-researched and ignored by criminologists. The ‘crimes of the powerful’ relate to the idea of the power imbalance between the Global North/South, challenging the ideas and practices of the North and holding the elite class accountable for the plight of underprivileged groups or classes (Moosavi, 2019). Overall, there is a need for criminological knowledge production to look towards Southern Criminology to fill the gaps in our current theories and methodologies so that we clearly see their engagement with and the connections between colonial power, class inequality, and crime.

Indigenous Criminology

Indigenous criminology focuses on the idea of decolonization as the restoration and revitalization of Indigenous knowledge and legal traditions (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019b). This is a response to the socio-economic injustices that colonialism has caused, acknowledging the use of colonial tools including cultural and land dispossession through a disavowal of Indigenous knowledge and ideologies. Thus, resulted in the displacement of Indigenous Justice Systems in favour of Euro-centric systems of governance, law, and order. In addition, the current criminological discipline tends to ignore and invalidate Indigenous epistemologies given its current preference for Western theorizing and scientific research methods developed during the Enlightenment period that do not resonate with Indigenous methodology (Smith, 1999). Mainstream criminology’s response to the over-representation of Indigenous people lies in its pronouncements on the “indigenization” of the Justice System (Mcguire & Palys, 2020). “Indigenization” occurs when settler-colonial states “fit” Indigenous traditions and customs into colonial perspectives strictly to benefit the interests of the state and continue to maintain control over Indigenous systems of governance (Mcguire & Palys, 2020; Monchalin, 2015). These traditions and customs are likely to be taken without any social and historical context, skewing their intention and purposes in a way that makes it unlikely for the communities to develop genuine practices. Thus, there is wariness and caution over contemporary theories and methodologies claiming to integrate Indigenous traditions and customs into the non-Indigenous structures. These methods are more than likely to misappropriate certain community traditions and impose further colonial harm on marginalized communities.

Cunneen & Tauri (2019a) argue that the post-colonial discipline intends to move away from the mainstream discipline, replacing it with Indigenous epistemologies and methodologies that celebrate and benefit localized communities. That said, it is important to recall how the term “Indigenous” encompasses a wide range of First Nations peoples, Metis, and Inuit cultures and traditions based on their understanding of community and the main principles sustaining it. Indigenous ways of knowing were largely transmitted orally to new generations, through storytelling, rituals, art, dance, and ceremonies and valued knowledge that is local, holistic, and verbalized–passed down from dreams, the ancestors, stories, and experiences (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a; Monchalin, 2015). Indigenous principles involve “harmony, balance, and circular thinking” that emphasize the interconnection of human beings with all other living things (Monchalin, 2015). This principle is also reflected in traditional Indigenous justice systems and responses to criminality, which involve the entire community in the judicial process and aim for “healing” concerning all modes of crime (Monchalin, 2015). Smith (1999) says these sorts of Indigenous knowledge and principles can only be implemented within the post-colonial discipline if Indigenous academics and scholars with the knowledge of both contemporary and historical traditions are highly involved including in senior roles. Indigenous knowledge and ideologies must also be protected by intellectual property rights during the research process, and the outcomes shared amongst the local community (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a; Asadullah, 2021) and driven by Indigenous protocols that contain explicitly outlined goals and fathom the impact of the proposed research to ensure that it is beneficial and not harmful towards individuals and/or the community (Smith, 1999). Smith (1999) also created a list of strategies that non-Indigenous researchers must follow to become more culturally sensitive as regards Māori communities. These strategies include: ‘avoidance’, whereby the researcher avoids dealing with the issues and instead partakes in personal development; Māori ‘language’ and ‘cultural knowledge’ acquisition’; ‘consultation’ with Maori communities seeking support and consent; and “making space to recognize and attempt to bring more Māori researchers and ‘voices’ into an organization (pp. 176-177). A more localized, holistic, and non-hierarchical approach towards postcolonial criminology informed by Indigenous cultural contexts allows the discipline to broach empirical research on questions and issues that are relevant to Indigenous people and their communities (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019b; Asadullah, 2021).

Afrocentric Criminology

When looking outwards for non-Western, post-colonial criminology, it is important to consider the voices of those directly affected by modes of capitalism and imperialism. This is why Agozino (2021) argues that decolonizing criminology requires recognition of the social and historical struggles of the colonized African populations, as these experiences are interconnected with the injustices occurring in the rest of the world. Furthermore, Agozino (2012) suggests that the criminological field ought to carry out research and knowledge production based on data reception rather than data collection. This means researching the current experiences of ‘colonized’ peoples in the Criminal Justice System obtained from the colonized voices themselves and incorporating it into our perceptions of ‘crime’ and justice, rather than tabulating data collected through a researcher’s lens (Agozino, 2021). A focus on the Afrocentric context of crime and liberation helps criminologists reflect on the theory of the political economy of criminalization and acknowledge the current Afrocentric struggles towards decolonization (Agozino, 2021).

Criminologists often have willful ignorance towards the consequences of capitalism, colonialism, and imperialism on a nation’s ability to ensure that the Rule of Law operates on legacies that regulate and maintain inequitable social conditions. Here again, we see why Agozino (2021) argues that the discipline of criminology is considered a “control-freak” discipline and that both political economists and criminological (anomie) theorists have often misinterpreted the hypothesis surrounding class inequalities and societal reactions to crime. While poverty and unequal opportunity cause deviance, many rich and powerful individuals also commit crimes and are more likely to get away with them. Western contemporary criminology such as feminist and critical criminology are also complicit in the silence about institutionalized crimes against African populations (i.e., slavery, apartheid, and other socio-economic exploitation) (Agozino, 2019). To fill this knowledge gap, one must consider the contributions of liberation criminology. The contributions of such African scholars as W.E.B Dubois, Frantz Fanon, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Angela Davis and Biko Agozino fortify the development of criminological theories and often take a Marxist approach to the current political climate and struggle for emancipation (Agozino, 2021).

Liberation criminology considers the historical contexts of deviance and social control in order to decolonize and abolish oppressive power relations. It does not claim to be an alternative discipline to mainstream criminology; rather, the discipline shifts the focus towards reparations for victims of imperialism and figures out what is to be done about the repressive and controlling institutions that continue to impose socioeconomic injustices (Agozino, 2021).  The decolonization of criminology will not happen overnight or through a specific set of methods applicable to all societies affected by Eurocentric oppression. There will “constantly be a struggle between the colonizers and the colonized by all means necessary” (Agozino, 2019 p. 19). Lastly, the decolonization of criminology is both a violent and non-violent struggle in that one could weaponize the concept of theory by changing a society’s perception of crime and criminal behaviour. Mainstream authoritative criminologists and theorists who benefit from the legacies of colonialism, however, may be opposed. Representation of Indigenous and other marginalized scholars within the interdisciplinary field of criminology can provide new ways of thinking about combating the socio-economic injustices that help perpetuate crime and ‘criminal’ behaviour.


As this paper discusses the discipline of criminology and its theories, methodologies, and policy, there are limitations as to the scope of the analysis. This includes the lack of substantive data to conclusively support the validity of these theories. In addition, decolonization is a rather new concept within the discipline of criminology, and there is an associated lack of available research arguing strongly in its favour. However, efforts to source and involve Indigenous scholars and non-Indigenous academics, whose works reflect on their personal and professional experiences, offer a more inclusive and anti-oppressive approach that will benefit future decolonization academics in the field and lead the way to a Post-Colonial Criminology.


To properly analyze and assess a criminological theory, the following questions must be asked: Who conducts the research? What is the main purpose and intention of the research? What methods will be utilized? Whose interests does it serve and who stands to benefit? Who has designed its questions and framed its scope? Who will write it up? How will its results be disseminated? (Cunneen & Tauri, 2019a). Colonialism and imperialism have left lasting social, economic, and political scars on our society, specifically as regards Indigenous people and marginalized ethnic communities. Westernized systems of crime control help perpetuate the outmoded ideologies that maintain the injustices upon which the systems of colonialism and imperialism were predicated.

There is danger in criminological perceptions positing socio-economic marginalization as the result of ‘reactions’ to unfortunate historical circumstances as it construes a narrative about marginalized communities being responsible for their victimhood and inherently tied to the justice system. A way to combat this perception is through the holistic and localized approach implicit in the concept of decolonization. By encompassing the need to challenge ourselves as settler-colonial beings and address the need for systemic and institutional change, especially in the discipline of Criminology but also Education, decolonization occurs when we critique and analyze Western criminology and enrich it with the perspectives and reflections of Indigenous people and other marginalized communities.

Post-Colonial Criminology could be expressed as a function of a wide range of theories encompassing Southern, Indigenous, and Afrocentric ideologies. These challenge social power imbalances, holding the colonizer and/or imperialist power accountable for crimes against humanity, and placing the voices of those who were colonized at the forefront of the liberation or decolonial movement. Coming to terms with social and historical contexts is imperative if researchers and academics are to fathom the ideological implications of contemporary theories on future policies and practices. Both imperialism and colonialism have considerable influence on academic disciplines conducting scientific research. Whether or not this has brought positive changes in the field, it was at the expense of (disavowing) Indigenous knowledge and traditional ways of thinking about social relations. Therefore, decolonizing criminology attempts to identify and resist these colonial structures by revitalizing Indigenous systems having localized, holistic, and non-hierarchical approaches through the involvement of Indigenous people in senior roles of knowledge production and its implementation. I have hopes that the post-colonial discipline of criminology will have a necessary impact beyond the Justice System by broadening the way we theorize about social factors related to crime and criminal justice. Post-Colonial Criminology has a capacity for acknowledging systemic injustices and allowing Indigenous peoples and traditional practices to guide us in healing from the conflicts imposed by colonial, imperial, and capitalist worldviews and methods. This in turn will lead to a more sustainable and peaceful way of living with ourselves and with others. 

Discussion Questions

1) What are the pros and cons of implementing either Southern, Indigenous, and/or Africana ideologies into mainstream criminology?

2) Why is it important to consider the historical and societal context of criminological theories and how they affect our current perceptions of crime and criminal behaviour?

3) What impact on real-life scenarios do policies/practices aiming to decolonize criminological theory have?

Recommended Activities

1) Watch the 1964 National Film Board of Canada Short Documentary by Jack Ofield, Because They Are Different (available online at https://www.nfb.ca/film/because_they_are_different/). How are the attitudes of settler communities towards Indigenous peoples in the 60s reflected in the perspectives we have today? Explain why there is a significant focus on the socio-economic conditions of people on reserves and how representations of this might be used to falsely justify the need for assimilative integration of Indigenous peoples?

2) Explore and reach out to Indigenous community-based organizations in your area. Do comparative research on local Indigenous practices and governance to figure out the similarities and differences between their responses to crime and those that flow from mainstream criminological theoretical theory. 

Recommended Readings

  1. Agozino, B. (2003). Counter-Colonial Criminology: A Critique of Imperialist Reason. Pluto Press.
  2. Fanon, F. (1961). The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.


Agozino, B. (2004). Imperialism, crime, and criminology: Towards a decolonization of criminology. Crime, Law, and Social Change 41, 343-358.

Agozino, B. (2019). Humanifesto of the decolonization of criminology and justice. Decolonization of Criminology and Justice 1(1), 5-28.

Agozino, B. (2021). Africana liberation criminologies. In The Routledge Handbook of Africana Criminology (pp. 18-31). London and New York: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

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Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview Copyright © 2022 by Charmine Cortez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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