Putting the boot into boot camps
The genesis of National’s “boot camps” lay in a January 2008 document, “A Fresh Start for New Zealand “,
“They will be designed to give young offenders what they need to make a fresh start – structure, routine, clear boundaries, intensive support and a sense of self-discipline and personal responsibility.
The programmes will last up to one year and will include up to three months of residential training at, for example, army facilities. Young people sentenced to Fresh Start Programmes will be intensively supervised by high-quality staff dedicated to getting them back on track.
Fresh Start Programmes will be designed to address the problems underlying a young person’s offending and may include, for example, drug and alcohol rehab, outdoor and physical fitness training, literacy and numeracy teaching and work towards NCEA credits, teamwork exercises, and reinforcement of community values.”
Six months later, the policy was re-iterated in another election-oriented document – this time included in a mish-mash of “get-tough-on-young-hoodlums” policies. The policies were highly punitive – basically “raw meat” politics for National’s core voter-base (as blogger, Bomber Bradbury correctly assesses it).
The one difference was that the Nats had put a costing to their boot camp ideas; $35 million a year.
To really frighten the voters, John Key said in his opening paragraph,
“We need to urgently deal with the kids who pose a serious threat to the security of our communities.”
“Serious threat “?! Wow! These kids from (mostly) troubled homes must come armed with weapons of mass destruction?
It doesn’t take a PH.D in psychology to realise that the policies do pretty much sweet F A to address root causes of troubled youth. A mental image of a sticky plaster on a gaping raw red wound comes to mind.
But at least we now knew how much of our taxes the Tories intended to throw at this problem; $35 million.
Responses to National’s boot camp proposals ranged from the wide-eyed enthusiastic – to the eye-rolling dismissive.
Garth McVicar from the so-called “Sensible Sentencing Trust ” waxed lyrically,
“Call it what you will – discipline, accountability, responsibility works. We’ve just become politically correct and operating a social experiment. It’s been a dismal disaster. I think what John Key is putting out there is the first time I have seen a political party offer some constructive policy which I believe will turn this around.”
McVicar used all the right phaseology; “politically correct ” and “social experiment “. So he must be correct, eh?
Even Kim Workman – a more liberal, common-sense advocate of sentencing reform and director of the Prison Fellowship – supported the “Fresh Start ” programme, and said,
“A recent international review of prisons and boot camps confirms earlier research – that they have no positive impact on offenders and usually result in an increase in recidivism.
Fresh Start, on the other hand, promises to use the most advanced expertise in youth offending that New Zealand has to offer, and describes an environment which provides a mix of accountability and support.”
One of the reasons for the failure of earlier programmes … has been the lack of support and mentoring after the offender completes the sentence. The policy has recognised this as an issue and that’s a promising start.”
By April 2009, Mr Workman’s disappointment in Key’s “Fresh Start” programme became public,
“When John Key announced the ‘Fresh Start’ programme in March 2008, he stated that that he would use “the best expertise in youth intervention that New Zealand has to offer.” Those experts included people like Dr Ian Lambie, Dr John Langley, Professor John Werry, Professor David Fergusson, Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft – and they have all have spoken with one voice against the proposal. Yesterday, a wide range of organisations joined the chorus – including Unicef, Barnardos, the Families Commission, the NZ Council of Christian Social Services, NZ Law Society, and the Mental Health Commission. There will be more organisations joining in the criticism in the weeks to follow.
“The proposal was also heavily criticised at three significant conferences in the last two months – Victoria Universities Institute of Policy Studies Conference on ‘Causes of Crime’, the Taumata Whanonga Hui on Behaviour Management in Schools, and the Ministerial Committee on the Drivers of Crime. At each forum, there was a clear consensus against the proposal.”
“Programmes like Fresh Start are not new, as the government suggests. When traditional boot camps didn’t work in the USA, ‘second generation boot camps were developed; military type training that ‘added on’ mentoring, post release support, drug and alcohol treatment and so on. What the research shows clearly is that they were no more successful than their predecessor.”
“The experts have spoken with one voice – it’s a pity they weren’t consulted before the government decision was made to proceed with the programme. The $35m could be much more effectively spent on early intervention programmes which address the underlying causes of crime. These same people are able to assist government to put together interventions that work – if government is prepared to listen.”
Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft was quite adamant, “we overwhelmingly know it doesn’t work“.
The offenders were better fed, healthier, stronger and faster but they were still offenders. Putting together young people with disorder problems and cannabis dependency meant their treatment and rehabilitation took twice as long as sustained intervention in the community.
Unfortunately, when it comes to a choice between mindless ideology or common sense and experience by those working at the “coal face”, National will always opt for the former; mindless ideology. It must be hard-wired into their DNA – right next to their dominant Stupid Gene.
A year later, in November 2010, the first ten young “graduated” from National’s boot camps. John Key met them personally and announced with glee,
“I’m impressed with the way the 10 young men who graduated today have stepped up to the challenge presented to them.
Each of these young men has the potential to turn his life around, and this camp has given them all some tools to make that happen.
I want serious young offenders to have every chance to turn their lives around and reach their true potential.
These camps are tough – and that is how they should be. They also give young people the skills they need to change their behaviour and move into the workforce so they can make a positive contribution to our communities.
This Government introduced Fresh Start legislation to hold young offenders to account and encourage self responsibility.
The next phase is critical, but these young men will get the support and encouragement they need to keep moving forward.”
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett was also present at the Christchurch “graduation ceremony”, and said,
“They will face challenges and temptations but I’m backing them because I believe if they work hard they can turn their lives around.”
Of two boot camp “classes” in 2009 and 2010, involving seventeen youths, the results by July 2011 – three years after the ‘launch’ of National’s Policy on Youth Justice, the results were revealed to the people of New Zealand. Said results were hardly “flash”.
- fifteen of seventeen youth offenders had reoffended,
- four of the seventeen were in jail,
- in a weak attempt at positive ‘spin’, the MSD report stated that “eight of the fifteen who had reoffended did so less frequently than before, and nine committed less serious offences than before”. Hooray.
Bizarrely, Assistant Social Development Minister, Chester Borrows, said that “there was no magic wand that could be waved to instantly fix the problems with the country’s most troubled young people”.
“MACs are the last ditch attempt to turn these kids around and stop them heading to adult prison and a life of crime.”
Which leads one to the inescapable conclusion that National simply has no idea. Not a clue.
“This Government is determined to keep trying to break entrenched offending.”
Hmmm, I doubt that.
Especially when the epic fail of 2011 seems to have been repeated this year.
On 11 December, National and it’s bureacrats refused to allow further release of information regarding the boot camp programme. A report by Fairfax media stated,
Requests for information about the 78 participants in the seven camps run since were refused by both the Ministry for Social Development and its Associate Minister Chester Borrows, who said making public the information about the “nature of offences or offending” could identify the youth involved.
When queried if this was because the crimes were high profile, such as homicide or rape, the minister declined to answer.
Yeah. I’ll bet he wanted to refuse to answer.
Because Associate Social Development, Minister Chester Borrows knew full well that the following intake of “participants” would also yield similarly shocking poor results.
A report by TVNZ News a month later, on 14 December, showed us the reason by Mr Burrows was so ‘shy’ in releasing the figures.
Of the 31 young people who completed and left a Military-style Activity Camp (MAC) prior to April 2012, 19 reoffended in the first six months after finishing the camp, according to CYF (Child, Youth and Family).
According to Kim Workman,
“When you consider that two-thirds reoffend after six months, what we’re saying is after two years that figure is likely to increase to 85% – 90% which is pretty near what you’d expect if you did nothing at all.
When it was announced it was highlighted as a major part of the Fresh Start programme, and the military type thing captured the public imagination, because many people have had an experience of that kind and have benefited from it.
You’ve got very serious young offenders, many of them have drug and alcohol problems, about 20% probably, have foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – these are the sort of kids who aren’t going to take orders and understand the consequences of their actions.
The effort is wasted on them. It’s a question of where do you want to put your money, and it seems bootcamp is not the place to invest large amounts of taxpayers’ money.”
To which Minister Chester Borrows still claimed that “overall the Fresh Start reforms have had a positive effect on young offenders”.
“Fresh Start is about getting smarter in how we deal with young offenders. While it is still early days, these results are an encouraging indication that we’re on the right track.”
He has to say that. Any admission that National’s boot camp programme was failing young people and wasting time and taxpayer’s money, would also be a public admission that National had implemented a badly flawed policy.
And if boot camps was a flawed policy – what else has John Key implemented that was also poorly thought out and not delivering results?
Perhaps their job creation policy?
National will probably persevere with the policy and then quietly drop it. They cannot afford more statistics of failure such as the last three years have been delivering. Not when other negative statistics such as rising unemployment; increasing migration to Australia; business collapses; near-zero economic growth; a housing shortage; etc, etc are still appearing in our media on a daily basis.
Expect boot camps to be given the boot. (Or “amalgamated” into other programmes.)
Which will then leave National with a serious conundrum; how do they address this country’s worsensing and deepening underbelly of poverty, resultant hopelessness, alienation, and anti-social youth?
National does not believe in State intervention in social matters (except where it concerns beneficiary bashing). They call it “nanny state” government.
But they will have to intervene and look at new measures to combat growing social problems.
That will put them on a collision course with their voter base – many of whom are conservative, right-wing, low-information, and disapproving of “big government” and “Nanny State”.
As ‘Bomber Bradbury’ said with his usual insight on his blog, Tumeke,
“This Government is not about empirical evidence, it’s about raw meat reactionary ignorance for their rump voter base. National’s voter base hate young criminals and especially hate young brown criminals, as far as National’s rump are concerned the fact these crims can still walk and breath is too good for them. The idea of running them ragged through a boot camp pleases National Party spite, and that’s all that matters.
The course doesn’t need to actually work, and it doesn’t really matter that it doesn’t, what’s important is the perception that young crims are being disciplined and given a hard time in a military boot camp.
Rehabilitation is considered a weak cop out by National rump voters, they want to see these teens in chain ganged orange jumpsuits, breaking rocks on the side of the road singing Old Man River.”
This will be interesting.
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein
The same could be said of most right wing policies.
National Party: A Fresh Start for New Zealand (29 Jan 2008)
National Party: 2008 – Policy on Youth Justice (17 July 2008)
NZ Herald: Support for National’s boot camp (3 Jan 2008)
Kim Workman: Government Response to Boot Camp Critics Disappointing (30 April 2009)
NZ Herald: Judge says ‘boot camp’ treatment doesn’t work (14 May 2009)
National Party: PM encourages fresh start for young people (29 Nov 2010)
Fairfax Media: Key meets first boot camp graduates (29 Nov 2010)
NZ Herald: Most boot camp youths have reoffended (20 July 2011)
Fairfax Media: Minister keeps a lid on boot camp failure figures (11 Nov 2012)
NZ Herald: Half of boot camp youths continue to offend – report (13 Dec 2012)
TVNZ: Boot camps criticised over re-offending rates (14 Dec 2012)
The Standard: Boot camps yet another Key failure (15 Feb 2011)
The Standard: Choices, choices: pointless boot camps (17 April 2012)
Tumeke: Labour are wrong – Youth Boot Camps a screaming National Party success (14 Dec 2012)
= fs =
For a better New Zealand…
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