Judge’s ver­dict given a boot

Auckland City Harbour News - - Opinion -

Flash­back: Prin­ci­pal Youth Court Judge An­drew Be­croft: “The tra­di­tional boot camp for young of­fend­ers – the ver­sion which ran un­til 2002 – was ar­guably the least suc­cess­ful sen­tence in the West­ern world ... a spec­tac­u­lar, tragic flawed fail­ure ... it made them health­ier, fit­ter, faster, but they were still bur­glars, just harder to catch ... 92 per­cent of boot campers un­der the pre­vi­ous scheme were back into crime within a year.”

Among re­ac­tions to his com­ments:

“Where did Judge Be­croft’s stats orig­i­nate?

“I re­tired af­ter 20 years as a pro­ba­tion offi the lat­ter half as a su­per­vi­sor of pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers and I’m amazed by com­ments from peo­ple like the learned judge.

“Ear­lier sen­tences did work and al­though those of us at the coal­face were cu­ri­ous about the re­cidi­vism rate, we were con­tin­u­ally told by our mas­ters there were no statis­tics re­lat­ing to re­peat of­fend­ing.

“You didn’t need to be a nu­clear physi­cist to see the ef­fects of some of the sanc­tions avail­able to the court at the time.

“Pro­ba­tion was usu­ally given to first of­fend­ers – the less so­phis­ti­cated crim­i­nals.

“A re­tir­ing su­per­in­ten­dent of Mt Eden Prison said: ‘Of­fend­ers even­tu­ally ma­ture and stop of­fend­ing of their own ac­cord.’

“He quoted fig­ures he had kept. Euro­peans tended to stop of­fend­ing around 24, nonEuro­peans about 28. His as­sump­tion closely matched the ages of peo­ple on my of­fi­cers’ caseloads.

“Pro­ba­tion was in­tended to help this mat­u­ra­tion – and it worked. Un­til the Pro­ba­tion Ser­vice was hi­jacked by psy­chol­o­gists who con­vinced se­nior man­age­ment that pro­ba­tion offi could han­dle more hard­ened crim­i­nals re­leased early on pa­role.

“This is where it came unglued. The ju­di­ciary al­ready had an in­flated view of the mys­ti­cal pow­ers of pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers to per­suade young of­fend­ers, and it was only a short hop to the law­mak­ers ac­cept­ing that they were ideal peo­ple to su­per­vise hard nuts emp­tied out of pris­ons to save the gov­ern­ment from build­ing more.

“The sec­ond flaw: Clos­ing the two other sanc­tions which were gen­er­ally ef­fec­tive but cost more than the gov­ern­ment wanted to spend – borstal train­ing which evolved into cor­rec­tive train­ing, and res­i­den­tial pe­ri­odic de­ten­tion.

“Borstal had a strong em­pha­sis on phys­i­cal fit­ness, dis­ci­pline and healthy food – much like the pro­posed boot camps.

“It gave young of­fend­ers a taste of what adult cus­to­dial sen­tences would be like. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, few young of­fend­ers who went through borstal train­ing wanted a sec­ond dose of it.

“The next de­vel­op­ment was cor­rec­tive train­ing, a fully cus­to­dial sen­tence like borstal but with em­pha­sis on giv­ing of­fend­ers constructive work on the prison farm or forestry. They ac­quired de­sir­able skills.

“The only prob­lem was that they were too of­ten re­leased into ur­ban ar­eas. Burst­ing with en­thu­si­asm for a good job in forestry or on a farm they dis­cov­ered no open­ings.

“One lad I placed with a pri­vate com­pany with a for­est near south Auck­land never looked back.

“His train­ing had been rel­e­vant. This sup­ports the Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment Paula Ben­nett’s state­ment that ‘the old boot camps lacked the nec­es­sary fol­low-up sup­port to work’ – an amaz­ing over­sight by crim­i­nal jus­tice plan­ners.

“Res­i­den­tial pe­ri­odic de­ten­tion cen­tres were closed as too ex­pen­sive – or so we were told.

“ Young of­fend­ers were given a par­tial cus­to­dial sen­tence – de­tained in spe­cial cen­tres on Fri­day evening and re­leased on Sun­day af­ter­noon, ef­fec­tively re­moved from week­end ac­tiv­i­ties which had led them into trou­ble with the law.

“On Satur­day, they went to work sites in the com­mu­nity.

“Given rea­son­ably hard phys­i­cal work they re­turned to the cen­tre at night tired and happy to have an early night. Sun­day train­ing cour­ses on things like first aid and per­sonal health were con­sid­ered by my col­leagues a very ef­fec­tive and sen­si­ble sen­tence.

“Un­for­tu­nately, adult pe­ri­odic de­ten­tion sen­tence later suf­fered the same fate.

“Peo­ple trained and re­cruited as pe­ri­odic de­ten­tion war­dens were sud­denly re­clas­si­fied as pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers – given caseloads and very lit­tle train­ing.

“They are not to blame for the de­ba­cles oc­cur­ring al­most weekly th­ese days.

“A col­league told me fewer than 40 per­cent of pro­ba­tion of­fi­cers to­day have more than two years’ ex­pe­ri­ence.

“If so then the Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tions Depart­ment – as the Pro­ba­tion Ser­vice has been re­la­belled – needs a com­plete over­haul.” – Name pro­vided

From Kelly An­der­son: “Where in the boot camp the­ory is the part where they ad­dress the real is­sues for th­ese so called ‘delin­quent’ youth?

“A child who is so far de­tached from pos­i­tive hu­man re­la­tion­ships that they have lit­tle re­gard for oth­ers speaks vol­umes.

“Some­thing has hap­pened in their life jour­ney to cause such lit­tle re­gard for oth­ers.

“Is a baby born with anger or hate? They are learned be­hav­iours. Of­ten a form of sur­vival. How do you re­act when some­one ig­nores you? How would you re­act to con­stantly be­ing ig­nored by the peo­ple who are sup­posed to care and love you?

“Most ba­bies are born with the same needs. Food, wa­ter, shel­ter and hu­man con­tact and af­fec­tion. Take this ba­sic hu­man need away and you have a child whose brain is likely to be wired dif­fer­ently from that of some­one in a loving, sta­ble home.

“Parental de­tach­ment in­evitably leads to adult de­tach­ment and com­mu­nity de­tach­ment.

“I don’t con­done or ex­cuse the be­hav­iour we see in our youth. I be­lieve peo­ple have choices and gen­er­ally know right from wrong, even chil­dren.

“But I am at a loss as to why we al­low adults to be poor care­givers of our youth and then blame the child when we get it so wrong.

“So if de­tach­ment and ne­glect has caused the lack of self-car­ing in our young peo­ple then can some­one please ex­plain how fur­ther ex­clu­sion from the com­mu­nity and more emo­tional beat­ing of a boot camp style in­ter­ven­tion will fix such a prob­lem?

“Many qual­ity ser­vices out there al­ready have winning for­mu­las but are crit­i­cally lim­ited by fund­ing.

“Why rein­vent the wheel? Let’s res­ur­rect ac­count­abil­ity and com­mon sense. The sooner this hap­pens, the sooner we will take ef­fec­tive action.”

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