There should be a law against the cynical recycling of dog whistle policies that everyone knows will not work.
Last week’s announcement by National of a boot camp policy is as good an example as you can imagine.
Normally these sorts of announcements are made in election year. Like in 2008.
The policy was a feature of John Key’s state of the nation speech in 2009. Of course the detail was more nuanced and more complex but the dog whistling headline of boot camps had the necessary effect.
As reported in this site by R0b this policy was an abject failure:
Boot camps were the central plank of the Nats’ “Youth Plan”. Key told us that they would “fight a growing youth crime wave and ensure young people get into education or training” and “defuse these unexploded human time-bombs”. Key was warned (and warned and warned and warned) that boot camps don’t work. But the Nats were determined to carry on regardless. Even when roundly “booed” by his audience Key plaintively insisted that “they actually do work”.
Well, the facts are now in and — surprise! — no they don’t.
Just four days ago the government was trying to keep the results of the first boot camp cohort secret. Seems that didn’t go down too well, because the figures have since been released in a report from the Minister of Social Development’s office. They show that bootcamp graduates have a 50% reoffending rate within just the first year. Furthermore:
“If that report is correct, then the reoffending rate is likely to be in the order of 65 – 70% after two years of course completion. That means that the course will have made very little difference for most, and will have increased the likelihood of offending for some.
“The Ministry of Social Development staff should not be blamed for the poor outcome. The programme design was forced on them by those who knew that the measure would have popular public support.
Well, that’s what happens when you ignore the advice of every available expert and let prejudice and hubris write your policy for you.
If you do not want to trust this site how about John Key’s chief science advisor Peter Gluckman who in a 2018 report said this:
The number of offenders in the youth-justice system is decreasing. Much of what the youth-justice system is doing is seen as effective and innovative, but we need to prevent young people engaging with the youth-justice system in the first place.
Robust evidence of risk creating and protective factors for the development of severely challenging behaviour (an early step on the pathway to offending) is well-established, including from NZ’s world-leading longitudinal studies, from birth to middle age, in Christchurch and Dunedin. This includes the effects of poverty, disadvantage and trauma (such as violence, abuse and neglect) on children’s offending. Family and extended family/whānau are at the heart of a child’s world and need to be supported to foster each child’s development and wellbeing.
And especially this:
Harsh punishments have little deterrent effect on young people. Boot camps do not work and “scared straight” programmes have been shown to increase crime. Young offenders can find the “thrill”, or emotional “high” of violent offending, and the social rewards (such as admiration from their peers), more important to them than concerns about being caught or facing social disapproval. Youth need alternative, prosocial ways to achieve engagement and social approval.
There were even earlier examples of the same policy being announced. Don Brash announced the same policy in 2005. Phil Goff’s response was scathing:
Calls to reintroduce boot camps for young offenders are recycling ideas that have been tried and discredited in the past, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.
“The boot camp idea is not new. It was tried for 21 years as Corrective Training and failed spectacularly, with a 94.5 per cent re-offending rate. Experience has proven it to be ineffective and a waste of money,” Mr Goff said.
“Those advocating a return to such policies must either be unaware of the facts or ignoring them for reasons of political expediency. Bumper sticker policies that have proven not to work don’t make our society safer.
“Because it was such an abject failure, Corrective Training was scrapped by the Sentencing Act 2002, but it had been disproved several years before that.
“Judges had already given up on it as an effective option. In 1986, 910 people were sentenced to Corrective Training. By 1999 that had dropped by two-thirds to 336. In July 2000, there were just 28 males serving the sentence.
“The main effect of boot camps was not to straighten trainees out but to produce fitter criminals.
Luxon is doubling down on the latest recycling of the policy and has described wrap around services as Kumbaya and a load of mush.
The rhetoric is fulfilling a deeply cynical purpose. Itch that retributive scratch that their base has while at the same time suggest that the Government is doing nothing and is inept.
The problem is, and I speak with the experience of having represented young people since the Oranga Tamariki Act was passed 33 years ago, this policy does absolutely nothing to address the causes of crime.
To do that they should address the causes of poverty, of education and health being marred by overcrowding, and the corrosive effects of colonialism and racism. And National should apologise for the mother of all budgets in 1991 following which the effects were clear. More and more families struggled to make ends meet and more and more children succumbed to the effects of poverty.
Not engage in the sort of reckless rhetoric that may meet a deep resentment felt by some against young people who get into trouble but which will do absolutely nothing about the problem.
One final comment is how expensive the programme is. They plan to spend $250,000 per kid even though the program will fail six times out of seven. And it is unclear what they will cut to fund the program even though they have said that the funding would come from within existing budgets.
This is deeply deeply cynical politics.