Judge’s verdict given a boot
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 officer, 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 avail- able 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 officers 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 bor- stal 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 camp theory is the part went to work sites in where they address the the community. Given real issues for these reasonably hard physiso called ‘delinquent’ cal work they returned youth? to the centre at night A child who is so far tired and happy to have detached from positive an early night. Sunhuman relationships day training courses that they have little reon things like first aid gard for others speaks and personal health volumes. Something were considered by my has happened in their colleagues a very effeclife journey to cause tive and sensible sensuch little regard for tence. others.
“Unfortunately, adult “Is a baby born with periodic detention senanger or hate? They are tence later suffered learned behaviours. Ofthe same fate. People ten a form of survival. trained and recruited How do you react when as periodic detention someone ignores you? wardens were suddenHow would you react ly reclassified as proto constantly being bation officers – given ignored by the people caseloads and very litwho are supposed to tle training. care and love you?
“They are not to “Most babies are born blame for the debawith the same needs. cles occurring almost Food, water, shelter and weekly these days. A human contact and afcolleague told me fewer fection. Take this basic than 40 percent of prohuman need away and bation officers today you have a child whose have more than two brain is likely to be years’ experience. If so wired differently from then the Community that of someone in a Corrections Departloving, stable home. ment – as the Proba“Parental detachtion Service has been ment inevitably leads relabelled – needs a complete overhaul.” 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.”