North Taranaki Midweek

Boot camp policy ‘won’t succeed’


OPINION: We have all seen this movie. A cocky young kid learns some hard life lessons at the hands of a tough hard-bitten adult who sets him straight, maybe after knocking the kid on to the seat of his pants a few times.

Finally, they get to bond over some shared challenge and a home cooked meal. The kid learns respect, the older bloke gets the fatherly satisfacti­on of knowing he has put this wayward young ‘un back on the straight and narrow.

If only the solutions were that simple, and if only the youth crime sagas now playing out all around New Zealand could end as heart-warmingly. In all likelihood, the National Party’s plan to revive (yet again) its military style boot camps for young offenders has been test driven before an audience of focus groups. It will probably play very well to its target audience. That is because the boot camp idea has always worked better as political theatre than it has in real life.

It wins votes, although it rarely changes lives.

Some of the plot details though, do seem rather unconvinci­ng. Ankle bracelets on young offenders, so they can be detained at home? Do the politician­s really think that young offenders who can do ramraids would be unable to cut off their ankle bracelets? Some of them do so, already.

And do we really think that sending youth offenders to a gulag run by army personnel untrained in youth work will somehow divert these kids from a criminal career path otherwise likely to land them in prison after they turn 18?

According to former chief science adviser Sir Peter Gluckman this approach won’t succeed. Gluckman’s extensive report on boot camps, wilderness experience­s and ‘‘scared straight’’ programmes found them to be of ‘‘limited efficacy’’. Revenge, not rehabilita­tion, seems the main rationale for such schemes.

That is a problem with what National is proposing. The more the revenge motive underlying boot camps is decked out with wraparound services that do address the social deprivatio­n, family violence and drug use that has been the cradle for much of the youth offending now hitting the headlines, the more the response will look like the much despised ‘‘soft on crime’’ approach that is currently in train.

No doubt, the community fear and anger about the current youth crime wave is genuine.

Yet pandering to those emotions with a policy known to have failed in the past hardly qualifies as a helpful contributi­on. Unfortunat­ely, the ‘‘lock’em up’’ approach to law and order has always been more about votes than victims.

Once they hit 18, the evidence suggests that many young criminals sent to prison will be recruited there into gangs and will face limited options on release. Ultimately, they will be released back into a society that has fearfully retreated further behind locked doors.

Meanwhile, the economic cost of law enforcemen­t and imprisonme­nt will have continued to escalate.

In short, there seems to be no valid substitute for engaging with the social causes of crime and family deprivatio­n.

The movies may say otherwise but in real life some young offenders will have to believe society holds a future for them before they will agree to obey its rules.

 ?? ?? Ankle bracelets on young offenders, so they can be detained at home?
Ankle bracelets on young offenders, so they can be detained at home?
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