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Putting the boot in

OPINION: As the ink dries on the Royal Commission’s report in abuse in state care, what must it be like for survivors to witness the Government’s direction on boot camps for young offenders?

‘Boot camps’ serve only one real purpose – they allow politicians intent on ignoring evidence to propel a vision that something is being done. It’s a chance for commentators and the public to hark back to a golden age when the whip ruled and people knew their place. As a public relations exercise for a government ‘coming down hard’, it fits the bill.

After that, there’s little left.

The research on boot camps, here and overseas, shows us that they are the worst criminal justice response we can take. There is a reason they don’t get used among countries interested in reducing or preventing crime.

New Zealand has, of course, already been down the boot camp track. Through the 1980s, we ran the short, sharp, shocking sentence of corrective training – three months of screaming military discipline that looked to tire and scare young people out of offending.

In 1983, the Department of Justice outlined that 71 percent of ‘trainees’ had been re-convicted in just one year. In 1997, official advice to the minister of corrections clarified that 92 percent of all those placed on corrective training in 1988 had been re-convicted: 92 percent! This astonishing rate of re-conviction – the highest, by some margin, of any sentence in our history – showed the boot camp as being far more problematic than doing absolutely nothing.

Boot camps are criminogenic. They create more crime, rather than reduce it. The kids ‘fall out’ tougher and quicker.

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