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Boot Camp Bill For Young Offenders Coming To Parliament

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

Wellington, Feb 16 NZPA - Serious young offenders will face army `boot camp' training under a bill the Government intends introducing to Parliament on Wednesday.

Prime Minister John Key announced the policy in January last year.

Today he said the bill to implement it would contain a range of new measures aimed at dealing with the worst young offenders.

"We need to deal more effectively with the growing group of young Kiwis who are seriously and repeatedly breaking the law," he said.

"These ticking time bombs need to be sent a message that their behaviour will not be tolerated."

The changes were aimed at the worst 1000 young offenders, Mr Key said.

They give the Youth Court a range of new powers, including more effective sentencing options.

It would have the power to issue a new range of compulsory orders, and the bill extended its jurisdiction to include 12 or 13 year-olds accused of serious offences.

"Initially up to 40 of the most serious young offenders will be required to take part in military-style activity programmes run by the army, consisting of up to three months residential training using army-type facilities or training methods," he said.

"Other programmes will also draw on the military-style training."

Changes associated with the reforms would cost up to $35 million, Mr Key said.

"It is an investment worth making, as there are many long-term economic and social benefits to be gained by rehabilitating young offenders," he said.

"This is about encouraging positive habits and behaviour."

The legislation would be passed by the end of this year and implementation would begin in April next year, Mr Key said.

Implementation would be complete by 2010.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said residential sentences available to the Youth Court would double to a maximum six months, followed by up to a year's supervision.

Most young people who broke the law were dealt with effectively, Ms Bennett said.

"However, there's a small core of young people who have exhausted all of their options under the current system, or who are guilty of extremely violent crime," she said.

"The impact of these 1000 offenders on their victims can be far reaching. We need to take action now to help them avoid a bleak future."

The Labour Party said the changes would do little to address the underlying causes of youth offending.

"It is, at best, an underwhelming `ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' response," social development spokeswoman Annette King said.

"The most unfortunate aspect of the plan is the proposed military-style activity camps, which have been discredited internationally."

They had been an abysmal failure in the past, she said.

"They had a reoffending rate of 92 percent -- the highest reconviction rate of any sentence in New Zealand," she said.

"They simply produced faster, fitter criminals who could outrun the cops and they learnt new tricks from their cellmates at the same time."

Penal reform campaigner Kim Workman said boot camps were "correctional quackery" that satisfied the desire to punish, but failed to produce a result.

Boot camps had first been set up in 1971 and abandoned in 1981 for corrective training.

"In 1983, a Department of Justice study found that 71 percent of corrective trainees were reconvicted within the first year of release," Mr Workman said.

Programmes that took a therapeutic approach and sought to inspire were far more effective, he said.

Children's Commissioner Cindy Kiro said evidence suggested that punitive initiatives employing shock tactics or corrective training were largely ineffective.

"The most effective ways of reforming child and youth offenders focus on addressing the issues in their lives, rather than just dishing out punishment," she said.

"Reform comes from teaching them new skills for addressing their problems."

She said the "hype" around escalating serious youth offending and "alleged public concerns" about unsafe communities was not supported by data.

"The figures have stayed quite steady for the past 10 years."

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