17 Nov 2022

National Party youth boot camps policy criticised as ineffective and populist

5:33 pm on 17 November 2022
Grant Robertson

Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the kind of approach proposed by National had been tried before and did not work. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Left-leaning parties have expressed anger, disgust and derision over National's new youth crime policy, saying it is a failed approach research shows will not work.

National's leader Christopher Luxon in Hamilton this morning announced the party would establish a Young Serious Offender category for repeat offenders aged 10-17 for serious crimes like ram raids, armed burglary or assault.

They would face consequences including electronic monitoring, community service, or going to new military academies run by the Ministry of Justice and Defence Force.

Heading into the debating chamber this afternoon, Acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson said that kind of approach had been tried before and did not work.

"It's a policy that's been proven to fail in the past and all it will deliver is fitter, faster criminals," he said.

"Not only is it me saying that, Sir Peter Gluckman who was the chief science advisor to John Key has said that boot camps don't work. They didn't work in the United Kingdom, they didn't work in New Zealand. National is just reheating failed policies."

The wraparound services the government provided were starting to have an effect on ram raids carried out by young people, he said.

"We are starting to see that trend downwards. We do know that intervening to make sure that we get to the root causes is the right thing to do

"Our military are quite busy, they've got important things to do including training soldiers in the Ukraine and the other jobs we give them here ... this is a policy that we know does not work and the idea that just reheating it again somehow represents new thinking is ridiculous."

Minister of Justice Kiri Allan said putting young criminals together in an army camp was a recipe for fully fledged nationwide criminal networks.

"What this policy will do, it will go on to create further victims - a lifetime pathway and trajectory for these young bucks - and that's something that we know. All the research shows it simply doesn't work.

Kiri Allan

Kiri Allan Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"When they announced this exact same policy in 2017, [sociologist] Jarrod Gilbert said it best then, 'this is just about drumming up votes'. And it is doing just that - it's a failure of a policy."

She said Luxon had been wrong to say electronic monitoring was already in use for children, saying they were only used in the specific circumstance of when young people were being prepared to go into a youth residence.

"It absolutely does not exist for 10-year-old kids because it's never been shown to work."

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said National's approach was racist, classist, and lazy politicking.

"They protect their own communities, they only stigmatise basically brown, poor-income communities," she said.

"This is lazy thinking, it is harmful thinking, they are not about what works at all - they never have been. This is the laziest form of political campaigning and it is harmful - that is what I'm angry about the most.

"I'm really quite disgusted that they are pulling up these same old lazy policies that do not work and in actual fact cause ongoing intergenerational harm."

Green Party Co-Leader Marama Davidson

Green Party co-leader and Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence Minister Marama Davidson Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

Davidson, who is also the Minister for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence, said she heard on a daily basis about the kind of solutions that worked.

"All my work is about talking to victims of crime, victims of violence. These young people need healing, trauma-informed responses, housing, incomes, health and mental health support and addiction support.

"The solutions are actually in the communities themselves, and this is what the research says."

The party's Justice Spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said it was "probably the most embarrassing failed policy" National could have dug up, and New Zealand deserved better.

"What we know about young people who get detained for crime is that they have overwhelmingly just experienced a serious trauma - that's domestic or sexual violence ... 90 percent have serious learning disability. The stats are really really clear, the research is clear, we know what to do to prevent them from a lifetime of crime and we know that is not bootcamps."

Golriz Ghahraman

Green Party Justice Spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

"Experts have told us that it's mental health care, it's housing, it's support to be safe in the home. Imagine retraumatising these kids - it means they will end up in adult prisons ... what's next - caning, or electroshocks?"

National had prioritised its own tough-on-crime image over victims and keeping communities safe in the long term, she said.

Te Pāti Māori co-leader Debbie Ngarewa-Packer said it was like a policy out of the 1800s, and would only streamline rangatahi into a system that reflected colonisation.

"It's not our rangatahi's fault that community is failing, that society is failing, that they end up homeless, that their whānau are enduring poverty. That's a wider Aotearoa issue so again that's problematic that they're not coming up with solutions.

"National should be more focused on what we need to do which is how do we eradicate poverty, how do we get our people into homes, how do we get our people into more successful achievement and education. I think what they're focusing on is the bottom of the cliff."

She said National was looking for easy solutions to a complex problem, and compared the approach with that taken to National's Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell, who admitted to severely beating another boy while at boarding school.

"They're prepared to sit there and use our rangatahi as political kickballs but they haven't talked about what they would have done in their situation with the likes of Sam Uffindell," Ngarewa-Packer said.

"Where was this solution when we had white, privileged children that were bullying and doing things wrong in education as rangatahi? It never got mentioned."

National was just trying to get as many cheap shots in before Christmas as possible, she said.

"And this isn't it - this isn't a good way to perform."

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Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

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