22 Nov 2022

Enforced bootcamps would make kids targets - Abuse in Care lawyer

7:12 pm on 22 November 2022
Woman hand holding on chain link fence for remember Human Rights Day concept.

Lawyer who has represented survivors of some of New Zealand's worst cases of abuse in state care, has a message for the National Party. Photo: 123RF

The National Party is ignoring the weight of evidence against enforced military-style camps for young offenders, according to a lawyer who has represented survivors of some of New Zealand's worst cases of abuse in state care.

Amanda Hill said forcing kids into boot camps would not stop them reoffending and could lead to more situations where they were neglected or maltreated.

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said boot camps had the potential to turn young people's lives around.

Mitchell pointed to the success of the Limited Service Volunteer courses run by the Defence Force, where 18 to 24-year-olds spent six weeks learning discipline and gaining self-esteem at military camps.

But Hill said National's model differed from the LSV programme in several key ways:

It was much longer - up to a year, versus six weeks; its participants could be younger, at 15 to 17 years old; and most importantly, young offenders would be pushed into the programme rather than volunteering for it.

"It's been going on for decades, this idea that we just punish harder, and the crime will stop, which is misplaced - it doesn't."

Hill had presented evidence on behalf of many survivors of Whakapakari, a boot-camp style programme on Great Barrier Island where Child, Youth, and Family sent 'difficult' youths.

Many of these youths were abused by staff members or fellow residents.

Mark Mitchell

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell pointed to the success of the Limited Service Volunteer courses run by the Defence Force. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Hill said Whakapakari met the criteria for a cult, with its charismatic leader, hierarchical structure, isolation from the outside world, and silencing of anyone speaking out.

Hill said military-style camps like the LSV programmes could work, but only when the participants chose to be there.

"If you're there as punishment, people view you as being needed to be punished.

"That makes you less than; it makes you a target.

"People feel entitled to treat you badly, and that's where things start to go wrong."

Hill said the National Party needed to reassess their plans considering the historic abuse in state facilities like Whakapakari.

But some of those who had participated in LSV courses hoped the boot camp model could work when extended to young offenders.

Byron Gardner left high school before he could sit his Year 13 exams.

He said the course at Auckland's Whenuapai Base gave him a sense of accomplishment he could not find in the classroom.

"All the students that I've seen come and go from there have changed drastically from being rather naughty, antisocial children to being well-off and mature."

Gardner went from LSV into another military preparation programme while many of his peers went straight into work.

He said although the courses were voluntary, some people needed an extra push to succeed.

Andrew Rodwell was a former patron of the LSV course run out of the Burnham Military Camp in Canterbury.

The programme targeted those at risk of long-term unemployment and took them through basic military training.

However, Rodwell said for some trainees, it was the basic life skills that left the biggest mark.

"Some of these were dreadfully disadvantaged children.

"On day one, they were shown their bunk rooms.

"One kid... was asked if they could make a bed, and they said, no, they didn't know how to make a bed.

"The instructor said, 'Have you not been shown?' and the answer was, 'No, I've actually never had a bed'."

Rodwell said the camp was lifechanging for its young participants.

"I saw 125 kids get off a number of buses on day one who had attitude.

"Six weeks later, the majority of kids I spoke to didn't want to leave."

Hill said courses like LSV provided an opportunity for young people to experience the military style of life.

She said adding another response to the youth offending problem would not help, and had this message for Christopher Luxon and his party:

"Revisit this. Think about what you are going to create and perpetuate by these boot camps."

The New Zealand Defence Force declined to comment on National's policy.

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