The National Party ignores the weight of evidence against forced military-style camps for young offenders, according to a lawyer who has represented survivors of some of New Zealand’s worst abuse cases in state care.
Amanda Hill KC said forcing children to attend boot camps will not prevent them from reoffending and could lead to more situations where they are neglected or abused.
National Police spokesman Mark Mitchell said the boot camps had the potential to change the lives of young people.
Mitchell pointed to the success of the Limited Service Volunteer Courses run by the Defense Forces, where 18- to 24-year-olds spent six weeks learning discipline and building self-esteem in military camps.
But Hill said National’s model differed from the LSV program in several ways:
It was much longer – up to a year, versus six weeks; its participants could be younger, between 15 and 17 years old; and most importantly, young offenders would be pushed into the program rather than volunteering.
“It’s been going on for decades, this idea that we’re punishing harder and crime will stop, which is misplaced – it’s not.”
Hill had presented evidence on behalf of numerous survivors of Whakapakari, a boot-camp style program on Great Barrier Island where Child, Youth, and Family sent “difficult” youth.
Many of these young people have been abused by staff or residents.
Hill said Whakapakari fulfilled the criteria of a cult, with its charismatic leader, hierarchical structure, isolation from the outside world, and silence from anyone who spoke.
Hill said military-style camps like LSV programs can work, but only when participants choose to be there.
“If you are there as a punishment, people see you as necessary to be punished.
“That makes you less than; it makes you a target.
“People feel entitled to mistreat you, and that’s when things start to go wrong.”
Hill said the National Party needed to reassess its plans given historical abuses at state facilities like Whakapakari.
But some of those who had attended LSV classes hoped the boot camp model might work when extended to young offenders.
Byron Gardner left high school before he could take his 13th grade exams.
He said the course at the Whenuapai base in Auckland gave him a sense of accomplishment he couldn’t find in the classroom.
“Every student I’ve seen come and go from there has changed drastically from rather naughty and anti-social kids to well-to-do and mature kids.”
Gardner transitioned from LSV to another military-prep program while many of his peers went straight to work.
He said that although the classes were voluntary, some people needed an extra push to succeed.
Andrew Rodwell was a former sponsor of the LSV course held at Burnham Army Camp in Canterbury.
The program targeted people at risk of long-term unemployment and provided them with basic military training.
However, Rodwell said that for some trainees, it was the basic life skills that left the biggest mark.
“Some of them were terribly disadvantaged children.
“On the first day, we showed them their dormitories.
“A kid was asked…if he could make a bed, and he said no, he didn’t know how to make a bed.
“The instructor said, ‘Were you not shown? and the answer was, ‘No, I never had a bed’.”
Rodwell said the camp has changed the lives of its young participants.
“I saw 125 kids get off multiple buses on the first day with attitude.
“Six weeks later, the majority of the kids I spoke to didn’t want to leave.”
Hill said courses like LSV provide young people with an opportunity to experience the military lifestyle.
She said adding another response to the problem of juvenile delinquency would not help, and had this message for Christopher Luxon and his party:
“Revisit this. Think about what you will create and perpetuate through these boot camps.”
The New Zealand Defense Force declined to comment on National’s policy.