National’s youth offender ‘military academy’ idea slammed by experts


Replay from 17 November 2022.
National party leader Christopher Luxon on National’s plan for youth offenders. Video / NZ Herald

National’s proposal for a young-offender military academy has received sceptical feedback from those working in the youth crime space, with concerns it “doesn’t address the problem”.

Leader, Christopher Luxon told the media on Thursday that the academy would be a space where offenders aged 15 to 17 would be sent for up to 12 months as a way of rehabilitation.

The Academies would “provide discipline, mentoring and intensive rehabilitation to make a decisive intervention in these young offenders’ lives. The Academies will be delivered in partnership with the Defence Force, alongside other providers”.

The concept hasn’t gone down well with crime experts.

Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury said the programmes are incredibly popular in parts of the world – particularly America. The positive thing about their popularity is the wide extent of data on their outcomes, Gilbert said.

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert said the programmes are incredibly popular in parts of the world - particularly America. Photo / NZME
Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert said the programmes are incredibly popular in parts of the world – particularly America. Photo / NZME

“The data is unequivocal – they have very little, or no impact,” said Gilbert.

“In some instances, they make problems worse.”

The programmes appeal to the public because they’re easy to understand and there’s “a sense of something being done,” according to Gilbert.

“Instinctively they make perfect sense, but it flies into a brick wall of hard data.”

Gilbert preferred it when National would talk about the preventative approach of a social investment model, something he said “doesn’t sound as sexy on the headlines” and has longer time-frames.

Auckland criminologist Ronald Kramer called the programme concept “a joke”.

He said without a larger community and ecological space for the young people to enter back into, the lessons learned in such military academies would be pointless.

Kramer used Rikers Island in New York as an example. He was involved in research that measured the cognitive treatment of young men in jail.

When prisoners were spoken to immediately after leaving prison, Kramer said they echoed messages they’d learned in prison such as “I’m going to look for a job” or “change my life”.

“They got into the real world and six months later, the ones we could find hadn’t found any opportunities, they were jaded and went straight back to their old ways. They didn’t get put into an environment to enact those lessons.”

Kramer used Rikers Island in New York as an example to demonstrate why military academies wouldn't be a suitable solution. Photo / File
Kramer used Rikers Island in New York as an example to demonstrate why military academies wouldn’t be a suitable solution. Photo / File

Kramer believes with the world growing increasingly challenging for young people to navigate such as the cost of living crisis, young people would end up back in an economic world “impossible to fix with a boot camp”.

An example of youth rehabilitation could once be found in Christchurch, when Te Oranga would welcome 10 young “challenging” kids where routine and structure were introduced.

It closed a year ago, and two former employees said Luxon’s new proposal would need fine-tuning.

“It seems to me like they’re shipping [youth offenders] out of society for a while to get rid of the problem, and once they’re back in society they’ll be back to what they know,” one employee said.

“It’s a good idea, it’s just too long [twelve months]. It would be good for a few months otherwise they get institutionalised and can’t think for themselves.”

Another employee agreed, saying a short time period would get them off addictions and introduce structure, but a community to return to would be essential to set a good example.

“To ask young offenders how to change, how to think is too hard. You can’t tell somebody – it takes years and so many compassionate people around them.”

However, the news was music to the ears of Sunny Kaushal, who has worked closely with the Government over the last year as he advocated for the businesses which were victims of ram raids and break-ins.

Kaushal, president of Crime Prevention Group and the Dairy and Business Owners Association, said he supported the policy and believed it was a positive step in holding offenders accountable.

Sunny Kaushal, president of Crime Prevention Group, said he supported the policy and believed it was a positive step in holding offenders accountable. Photo / Jason Oxenham.
Sunny Kaushal, president of Crime Prevention Group, said he supported the policy and believed it was a positive step in holding offenders accountable. Photo / Jason Oxenham.

“I come from a family background, a military background where we’re all disciplined,” he said.

“The values in this, young offenders could benefit from as they get vocational training, they get hooked up for studies, it’s very important. I think it’s the correct approach.”

Kaushal said business owners have been living in jail-like structures while being rammed, robbed and assaulted. Luxon said during their announcement that ram raids are happening every 15 hours showed “Labour’s soft-on-crime approach” is failing.

“Those younger people who have gone off the rails need to be shown strong constructive approaches to be given good citizens,” said Kaushal.

Luxon said on Thursday certain areas of New Zealand were being hit harder than others.

“For example, 20 per cent of all recent ram raids were in the Waikato. Gang membership in the Waikato is up 70 per cent over the past five years and gangs are recruiting nearly three times faster than Police. Enough is enough.

“My message to young offenders is that under National, you will face [the] consequences for your actions.”



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