National’s Boot Camps announcement is deeply cynical policy recycling

Written By: - Date published: 10:27 am, November 21st, 2022 - 28 comments
Categories: brand key, Christopher Luxon, crime, john key, national, poverty, same old national - Tags:

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.

And this:

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.


28 comments on “National’s Boot Camps announcement is deeply cynical policy recycling ”

  1. dv 1

    Should use the 250k to pay the kids if they keep out of trouble!!!

    Stop if they reoffend

    • woodart 1.1

      perhaps the $250,000 price tag should be trumpeted loud and clear. many of the dogs will change their tunes when the price per kid is advertised.

      • roy cartland 1.1.1

        Hell, I'd happily accept even $50k not to commit crimes. Sweet gig!

        • Chris

          Yeah, like Cathy Odgers' extremely well thought out idea of giving $10k to people not to have kids. Can't get more brilliant than that.

  2. AB 2

    The Nat's appetite for the policy runs deeper that mere cynicism and political calculation. It comes from their conviction that problems arise from defective individuals rather than defective systems – and that the solution is to correct or punish these wayward individuals. In it's kinder form, the punishment is replaced with 'wrap-around services' and gets given names like 'social investment'. Both come from the same place – an aversion to perturbing a status quo that works well for them.

  3. tsmithfield 3

    I don't think the issue is so much with the concept of a boot camp or whatever it is called. Rather the problem is with the ongoing support and community change required to support the "boot camp" intervention.

    When I was doing my Masters we had a lecturer from the US who had been in charge of a facility that dealt with youth who were on the verge of serious jail time, and usually involved in serious drug offences and violence.

    The lecturer said it was really easy to get dramatic changes within the environment of the facility. But that offenders quickly relapsed when they returned to their environment.

    So, what was found was that significant intervention was required at the level of the community the youth were returning to. That included intereventions such as providing mentors in the community, providing jobs for the youth and various other interventions that made a significant change for them in their communities. They found that success rates were significantly better with that type of approach.

    To be fair to National it looks like they realise the need for ongoing support in the community for those returning to it.

    Firstly, the program itself is quite long, two years. And it focusses on key issues hindering the youth such as drug issues and education. So, it does engage them in a new environment for a considerable period of time.

    Then it focusses on support in the community through community groups that provide community support for youth.

    Whether this will be enough is another question. To make a significant difference is going to be very expensive and require a long commitment.

    • mickysavage 3.1

      I agree with the first part of your comment. My professional experience is that most kids respond well to any sort of structured environment, whether it be Iwi provided residential care, a Youth Justice Facility or a community home. The problem is however that when they are returned to their home environment the effects of the changes made disappears as the original stressors take over. Hence the need to address poverty. The policy is an expensive drain of resources that could be used to address the actual causes.

      • tsmithfield 3.1.1

        I don't think we fundamentally disagree.

        Taking youth out of their environment is really necessary to make significant changes as there is simply too much going on in their lives that will undermine or distract them from making changes.

        The big problem I think is that there just hasn't been enough investment after the fact to ensure changes stick, and that longterm difference is made. The cost of doing this on a large scale is absolutely huge.

        I think that due to the costs of effective intervention we need to be having a nationwide discussion around this so there is electoral support for the longterm commitment to the cost of actually achieving meaningful change.

      • ianmac 3.1.2

        micky I think institutions like the Hokio Beach residential unit for criminal youths was among others abandoned in the 80s because although the boys had an ordered constructive experience, most reverted when they were returned to the home town. (There were a few who absconded from Hokio near the end of their sentence so that they would be returned to an extended sentence. By choice.)

        Wonder why Borstal was abandoned?

        • tsmithfield

          As I mentioned above, locking kids away isn't enough. There needs to be substantial intervention and support for the youth in the community as well to ensure the changes stick.

          None of this is cheap or easy.

    • Peter 3.2

      To make a significant difference is definitely very expensive and requiring a long commitment. It's easier to yell "Chuck 'em in jail!" or "Send 'em to bootcamp!" It's like, "Well, we sorted out that problem," and patting our backs for the success.

      Of corset make significant difference or worsen the situation is also very expensive. Not just in $$ terms but in community costs. That's called just chucking miscreants in jail or resorting to simple mindless approaches like boot camps.

      I remember a time when cuts were being made to Resource Teachers for Learning and Behaviour in Te Tai Tokerau. (RTLB) At the same time more money was going into the Northland Region Corrections Facility at Ngawha. (Prison)

      It was the classic taking the money to be spent building a fence at the top of the cliff and spending it on an ambulance at the bottom of it.

      • Tony Veitch 3.2.1

        Ultimately, the Natz and Act don't give a proverbial about the bottom-feeding youth of this country. This whole 'tough on crime' thing is, as Micky points out, nothing more than a cynical ploy to stir up their voter base.

        Mercenary Mitchell would soon sort the problem (/s) probably by arming the police.

        The last thing this country needs, with a looming climate catastrophe, is another few years of a simplistic-solutions, short-term focussed government.

    • Shanreagh 3.3

      So, what was found was that significant intervention was required at the level of the community the youth were returning to. That included interventions such as providing mentors in the community, providing jobs for the youth and various other interventions that made a significant change for them in their communities.

      So something like the kumbaya and wraparound mush now being slated by Luxon?

    • Chris 3.4

      It'd be more efficient to just sort poverty out.

  4. Tony Veitch 4

    An Ode to Boot Camps!

    I won't quote from it – got told off last time – copyright and all that, but worth a read.

    • Incognito 4.1

      Sorry, but of course you can quote here on TS. We do it all the time, with links and/or proper attribution. A quote doesn’t mean copy & paste the whole text verbatim. It means taking a salient part to make a point. As such, ideally, it should be short and relevant to the point one wants to make.

      • Tony Veitch 4.1.1

        Ah, but I did copy and paste the whole thing, and weka, quite rightly, pulled me up on doing so.

        But it's still worth a read, for a giggle.

        As someone said, the worst thing that can happen to a politician is to be mocked! Or should I say, laughed at!

  5. Incognito 5

    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.

    Yup, it is to make Labour and this Government look weak on crime and, by extension, weak on many other societal issues. In fact, it lies the blame for many of those problems at the feet of Labour and this Government. It is a Trumpian tactic and it tends be quite effective, mostly.

    There a few RW commenters on this site who love to indulge in figurative drive-by shootings and ram raids here on TS, preferably early in the morning on OM, in order to keep up the negative emotions high & strong and even Lefties are starting to waver and become hardened in their views & stance against crimes & crims. They are not interested in genuine debate and solving these problems and neither is the hardcore National faction.

  6. Barfly 6

    Boot Camps

    1. "The Persecutor: (a.k.a. Villain) The Persecutor insists, "It's all your fault." The Persecutor is controlling, blaming, critical, oppressive, angry, authoritarian, rigid, and superior. But, if blamed in turn, the Persecutor may become defensive, and may switch roles to become a Victim if attacked forcefully by the Rescuer and/or Victim, in which case the Victim may also switch roles to become a Persecutor."


    Right wingers are wanna be persecutors – A dysfunctional personality type that drives so much harm in human society

    • Chris 6.1

      "Centre" in centre-right is meaningless when you consider it sits so close to nationalist white power neo-nazis.

  7. Ad 7

    Luxon isn't credible as a Law and Order lead harsh enough to head-to-head against Act.

    To get to the high 30% he needs to eat vote share off Labour not nibble the hard right.

  8. Thinker 8

    Sam Uffindell might be a good choice as Minister for Boot Camps, IMHO.

  9. Scud 9

    Problem with these morons, that boots camps are a short term fix !

    Unless you fix the social economic issues to get these kids gainful employ into Apprenticeships, Farm/Hort Cadetships, other non Tertiary Education, into the NZDF (both RF or Reserves) & or the DoC High Country Fire Teams & CD + the ongoing mentoring these individuals then it's a complete waste of bloody time & $$$!!

    Plus as my Ex RNZAC Mate has also said "Clearly National hasn't got a clue at just how broken Defence is atm! Talk about the proverbial last straw that broke the Camels back!!!

  10. Adrian 10

    Borstal was abandoned Ian because the standard of criminalty training was first-class.

  11. We are taught to train an animal with treats and positive reinforcement, yet we have some suggesting yelling punishing and controlling will alter wayward youth. Really?surprise

    The greatest change is when people learn self discipline, and when they see it changing their lives for the better.

    We have just been exposed to some of humanities worst behaviour in institutions, yet Nact suggest that same hothouse for abuse, Boot Camps. What could go wrong.? sarcsad

    Is that all they've got to offer after 5 years and 4 Leaders? Sadfrown

  12. Gaynor Chapman 12

    Here are some facts: Two out of three students who do not achieve proficiency in reading will end up in jail or welfare.

    Literacy (and numeracy ) standards in NZ have plummeted this century on national and international tests.

    Education is not the answer to all crime and poverty but easier for a government to address than economic problems. A renaissance in education is needed away from the extremes of progressive education we have now.

    Structured literacy (intensive phonics with sounding out words ) requires a more disciplined learning environment than the present so called balanced literacy which primarily has a focus on inaccurate context reading of words,

    Here is a double whammy in teaching children reading by phonics – developing self discipline and an essential life skill,

    Since NZ has practically the same reading methods to the US. The recent podcast on the header is very relevant

    [personal details deleted]

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