New Zealand’s new boot camps are worth trying because they gave the country’s “toughest” young criminals an alternative to going straight to adult prison, PM Bill English says.
The National Party has promised to train 150 of New Zealand’s “toughest kids” at Waiouru military camp alongside soldiers.
Those sent to the camp would be 14 to-17-year-olds convicted of crimes with jail sentences up to 14 years for aggravated robbery, serious assault, rape and murder.
While admitting National did not know if the boot camps would help turn lives around, Mr English told TV3’s The AM Show today the Government had to try something different.
He said the camps were a last-chance saloon for youths who were already in serious trouble and heading for adult prison.
“All the work we’ve done shows these are kids, who will spend 20 to 30 years in the justice system, and it will cost us millions if we don’t do something a bit different,” he said.
However, critics are sceptical of the announcement’s timing during an election campaign, given National already introduced a similar programme in 2009 for the 40 most serious young repeat offenders.
Critics and political opponents say research from the United States, United Kingdom and elsewhere showed boot camps did not work. The Corrections Department has also said the research shows they achieve negligible or negative effects.
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said National had already tried boot camps with little success and had “run out of ideas”.
Labour justice spokesman Andrew Little said the camps were draconian and counterproductive.
“These sorts of programmes don’t work. They just turn young criminals into fit young criminals.”
Greens leader James Shaw call them “an absurd policy”.
Opportunities Party Leader Dr Gareth Morgan said “further traumatising young people” in the camps would achieve the opposite outcome.
But Mr English said there was plenty of evidence prison did not work to rehabilitate young criminals either.
The camps would include “wrap-around” services to support those taking part and said the government could not just give up on these young criminals by sending them straight to prison.
The YSO classification would come with tightened bail requirements, increased electronic monitoring and removing any early release from custodial sentences.
Those who failed to complete their time at Waiouru Military Camp would serve the balance in jail.
Other law changes would “hold their parents to account”, justice spokeswoman Amy Adams said.
Police would be allowed to issue instant infringement notices to parents of children under 14 walking the streets without supervision between 12am and 5am.
Breaches of court orders directed at a young person’s parent would be recorded on that parent’s criminal record, closing a current loophole, Ms Adams said.
National would also set up a contestable $30m fund for community groups to support programmes to reduce offending.
“We know local solutions are often the best, and we want to give smaller or rural communities the opportunity to take further action,” Ms Adams said. NZN