Monday, 16 February 2009


In a comprehensive defeat for common sense, the Nats have today announced their plans for youth offender bootcamps.

To me, this is everything that's wrong with the populist politics National seems so keen to engage in. The Nats must know there's no evidence that bootcamps reduce offending or produce any social benefits at all - they're just throwing a bone to the rabid right, who are motivated by a punitive urge that borders on sadism.

When a young person - or any person - commits violence or another serious crime, it shows that they don't feel much connection with the society around them. Forcibly removing them from that society, intentionally degrading them and subjecting them to punitive treatment is hardly going to foster their empathy. In fact, it's going to feel a whole lot like state-sanctioned bullying - and that never motivated anyone to be a good citizen.

It's my hope that no responsible, ethical social service worker will be involved with these bootcamps. But this could in itself cause problems: unqualified people may end up responsible for the care of kids with a complex range of needs. Many of these kids will be dealing with abuse or drug or alcohol problems - not the stuff of amateur hour.

Concern for youth offenders aside, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to foresee problems with teaching youth offenders military skills. Would it be desirable for the likes of Liam Reid to have combat training? Antonie Dixon, perhaps? Not that these kids will need much help from the military experts: putting 40 accomplished offenders together creates a formidable criminal workshop.

I have no doubt whatsoever that bootcamps will actually increase crime. To so-called 'justice' and victims' rights advocates, this seems a reasonable price to pay for the joy of vengeance. That's more than a little ironic.


stargazer said...

well, the bootcamps are apparently to be run by the defence force, so i don't know that social workers will be involved.

but stupid is absolutely right - especially when you refuse to look at all the evidence that shows this stuff just does not work.

Brett Dale said...

I don't think they teach them karate or how to sue a gun, its more about teaching them respect and such, something they seem to be lacking.

MacDoctor said...

there's no evidence that bootcamps reduce offending or produce any social benefits at all

Not true. There is evidence that boot camps of adequate (>90 days) length and proper post-prison follow up show a small reduction is re-offending.
PDF report.

Oh, and boot camps teach survival skill and teamwork, not martial skills.

Idiot/Savant said...

they're just throwing a bone to the rabid right, who are motivated by a punitive urge that borders on sadism.

"Borders on"?

I think they're well into that territory - and not in a fun consenting adults way either.

Idiot/Savant said...

its more about teaching them respect and such, something they seem to be lacking.

Respect isn't taught, it is earned. And beating people or yelling at them or sticking them in pits or making them carry loads isn't any way to earn it (it is however a way to make yourself feel Big and in charge. But my email informs me daily that you can now get pills for that).

Anonymous said...

Utter nonsense of course. How many of you have spent time in the armed forces? What do they drill into you during the basic training elements?

You have no idea. Being in the armed forces demands respect and teaches routines. That is why many go into it, to sort their lives out. Just like sports clubs and church clubs get kids off the street to teach respect and skills.

Or are you against sports and religious clubs too?

Anna said...

Anon, the whole point is that it's not voluntary. If the armed forces floats your boat, by all means join. But being made to do it is quite, quite different.

And 'demanding respect' is an oxymoron. If you don't want to be there, you won't respect the people who put you there. Likewise, if you don't want to be in the team, you won't embrace teamwork.

Anna said...

Hi Anon - I just want to clarify that last comment after having a think. I don't want to sound anti-armed forces (although I've certainly got criticisms). I respsect, amongst other things, the civil defence work done by the army here and overseas, and I've got friends who benefited hugely from the camaderie of being in the armed forces.

My point is more about the suitability of the army as a place of punishment/pastoral care for kids, some of whom will be minors. There's a world of difference between voluntarily going as an interested 18+ year old, and being sent their against your will as a young person with a history of serious offending, and probably a load of other quite serious problems.

Added to that, the recent court martial of that guy (at Waiouru?) for bullying - including demanding a female officer give him a blowjob - and the report of a couple of years back which found the navy treats its female personel badly makes me really concerned for the quality of care that the army is equipped to give.

And, irrespective of the particular skills kids will be taught, the use of violence is implicit in the whole idea of 'defence' forces. I understand why, of course, but I don't know if that's appropriate for kids who have been committing violent crimes. I would have thought that a whole new way of approaching issues would be preferable.

MacDoctor - thanks for the link. I'll read it with great interest - but it will have to work very hard to convince me it's not an abberation from other literature... ;-)

The ex-expat said...

The military does have positive aspects to it, but there is still a dark underbelly of assault and rape.

Bootcamps were abolished in Florida under Jeb Bush (hardly a lefty liberal) after a 14 year old boy died at the hands of guards.

AWicken said...

MacDoctor, you forgot to mention that the NIJ report mentions that in some instances bootcamps have been associated with _increased_ reoffending. And it tends to focus on adult rather than juvenile boot camps.

And the article (as you suggest) states that lower recidivism is associated to a small degree with those programmes that also provided "proper post-prison follow up". Question - how about ditching the orienteering and doubling the standard "post-prison follow up"? Would that be more effective? I mean, the camps by themselves aren't.

Ben said...

It depends what the boot camp actually involves. Some programmes are better than others.

"While the Government is not revealing the exact details of a "boot camp", an Auckland programme run partly along paramilitary lines gives an insight to what offenders could face.

Counties Manukau programme Male Youth New Directions (MYND) attempts to turn around the lives of South Auckland's worst youth offenders.

The boys are typically Maori or Pacific Islanders, with convictions for crimes from burglary and tagging to wounding with intent to injure and grievous bodily harm.

Offenders aged 14 to 17 undergo a 20-week discipline and mentoring programme, which includes an intense 10-day army-like camp, or "away phase", in which they are stripped of their belongings and gang identities and have their hair trimmed.

As well as intense physical activity, the participants undergo counselling sessions and are reminded of their responsibility for the offences they have committed.

The programme, run by former soldier Stephen Boxer, is completed in an 18-week reintegration phase, where the participants aim to return to their communities under supervision.

Since the programme's inception seven years ago, there has been a 58 per cent reduction in total offending from graduates and a 71 per cent drop in serious crimes. Mr Boxer says the military component is only a foundation for ongoing development of individuals."