17 Nov 2022

Youth crime boot camps: National proposes military academies, electronic monitoring

5:54 pm on 17 November 2022
National Party leader Christopher Luxon

National Party leader Christopher Luxon says the new policy will tackle the more serious repeat criminals including the "ringleaders" of ram raids. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The National Party has announced a new $25 million-a-year policy for combating youth crime which would target serious offenders, including sending them to boot camps.

Announcing the policy in Hamilton this morning, party leader Christopher Luxon said his message to young offenders was that under National they would face consequences for their actions.

"No place is immune from the youth crime wave, but some are being hit harder than others," he said. "Enough is enough."

The policy has four main parts:

  • Targeting serious repeat offenders by creating a new Young Serious Offender (YSO) category for those aged 10 to 17 who had committed at least two serious offences including ram raids, armed burglary or serious assault. The category lasts for two years and can carry consequences including electronic monitoring, community service, or being sent to Young Offender Military Academies.
  • Young Offender Military Academies, would be set up by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with the Defence Force, for young serious offenders aged 15 to 17 to spend up to a year. They would include schooling, counselling, drug and alcohol treatment, mentoring, and cultural support, and a case worker will be assigned to the family.
  • Targeting gangs through already announced policies including banning gang patches, insignia and gatherings in public places, and additional search powers for firearms.
  • Funding community groups including iwi and those providing rehabilitation programmes, and assigning each young offender who has completed their time at one of the military academies to one of these groups "to provide intensive support to help their reintegration back into the community".

Luxon said the party believed 15- to 17-year-olds could be dealt with in a different way to younger age groups but if the policy worked they would be willing to include younger age groups.

"What we see is a really hard core serious group of repeat youth offenders and that's the response that the government have been missing in action on completely and that's why we want to have these powerful targeted interventions so they feel those consequences."

He said under the current regime they were seeing no consequences whatsoever and therefore believed they could get away with whatever they wanted.

"Clearly it's not being done at home, parents are letting these kids down, and actually they want a powerful intervention like this."

The policy has been costed at a total of $25m a year for four years, including $15m a year in new funding for setting up and running the military academies, and $10m a year in reprioritised funding for community providers as part of National's "social investment" model.

He said the youth justice system worked well most of the time, with 80 percent of first-time offenders "dealt with quickly and put back on the right path", and the new policy would tackle the more serious repeat criminals including the "ringleaders" of ram raids.

"If we target the ringleaders [who] tend to be that slightly older range, it can actually have quite a big influence on those younger kids in particular - but those younger kids will be partnered up with a community organisation to go through some of those same concepts and same programmes," he said.

Latest data suggests ram raids are becoming less frequent, despite a slow rollout of the government's countermeasures fund.

However, rates are still high - with seven stores in Waikato hit in a single night at the end of last month.

The military academies would be set up to handle an estimated 60 offenders a year.

"The academies will provide discipline, mentoring and intensive rehabilitation to make a decisive intervention in these young offenders' lives," a written statement said.

Echoes of policies past

The boot camp idea is similar to the 'Fresh Start' law National passed while in government in 2010, although that was later scrapped after chief science advisor Peter Gluckman concluded the following year they did not work and had high recidivism, citing local and international evidence.

"Military activity camps for the most serious repeat young offenders will teach self-discipline, respect and responsibility, with mentoring, parenting and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes to address the causes of offending," then-social development minister Paula Bennett had said at the time.

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith told Checkpoint he has respect for Peter Gluckman but "he's not the sole source of wisdom on every topic".

"There is no evidence that the current approach for a young ram raider to pack them into a family conference and say 'We'll see you again next weekend when you do exactly the same thing'... the evidence is that that's not working," Goldsmith said.

All the evidence he needed to see was the plight of business owners who had been victims of ram raid victims and were at wits end, he said.

"You go time and time again to see the victims of these crimes and they're just desperate for something to be done... there's just no consequences for this and these young people are just running around knowing that nothing ever happens and that has fed this dramatic increase in this kind of activity in the last two or three years."

He could not say what National's measure of success for boot camps would be.

Despite having landed on the scrap heap, National revived a boot camp-style policy its 2017 election campaign under leader Bill English.

National won the most seats in that election, but it was Labour that was able to form a government with the support of the Greens and New Zealand First.

Luxon said there was evidence to support the move.

"I'd say the last time we looked at it when we did the 12-month studies after kids had left these kind of programmes we saw a 50 percent-plus reduction in theft and burglary and violent assaults so we know that this is what's needed," he said.

National Party police spokesperson Mark Mitchell referred to the Limited Service Volunteer programme which had been run by the Defence Force for decades.

"Although those young people are volunteers, they're often young people that are drifting, they're starting to get in trouble with the law - some of them have actually had prison sentences because that programme actually runs from 18 through to 24 - and they've got addiction problems.

"It's delivered about an 80 percent success rate in terms of turning them around, having employment lined up for them, and allowing them to rejoin society."

Ankle bracelets

ACT party leader David Seymour

ACT leader David Seymour. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

ACT leader David Seymour said he welcomed the announcement, as it was "showing support for our policy of ankle bracelets for youth offenders".

"ACT first announced this policy in August. National has gone back and forth on whether it supports it, with National MP Erica Stanford saying the policy 'breaks her heart'," Seymour said.

"It's great to have clarity from National today it does support the policy."

He questioned whether the Defence Force would want to "babysit 15-year-olds who don't want to be there", but welcomed the idea of a "secure facility for kids who breach electronic monitoring".

Luxon clarified National's position, saying some home detention sentences included the use of ankle bracelets already.

"We do not want to see an 11-year-old, I'd suggest to you, with an ankle bracelet - but if that has to be the case then so be it. If they're a serious repeat offender, so be it."

Mitchell said the ankle bracelets should not be used on 11-year-olds as a matter of course, but there did need to be a firmer response for serious repeat offenders.

"Ankle bracelets aren't the panacea - unfortunately they can be taken off and removed - but they are one of many different tools that we are providing."

Goldsmith told Checkpoint if necessary, young offenders could wear ankle bracelets as a last resort.

"We don't want to have ankle bracelets on young people but if we have to we will... there has to be some way of saying if you've done it a second time actually no there will be a curfew and you will have a bracelet and you won't be doing it again."

This approach would only be applied to a very small group of young repeat offenders, he said.

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