‘It’s a joke’: National’s idea of ​​a ‘military academy’ for young offenders criticized by experts

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Rebroadcast 17 November 2022. National Party Leader Christopher Luxon on the National Juvenile Offenders Plan. Video / NZ Herald

National’s proposal for a military academy for young offenders has received skeptical comments from those working in the area of ​​juvenile crime, fearing it “doesn’t solve the problem”.

The chief, Christopher Luxon, told the media on Thursday that the academy would be a space where offenders between the ages of 15 and 17 would be sent for up to 12 months as a form of rehabilitation.

The academies would “provide discipline, mentorship and intensive rehabilitation to intervene decisively in the lives of these young offenders. The Academies will be delivered in partnership with the Defense Forces, alongside other service providers”.

The concept was not well received by crime experts.

Jarrod Gilbert, a sociologist at the University of Canterbury, said the programs are incredibly popular in some parts of the world, especially America. The positive thing about their popularity is the wide breadth of data on their results, Gilbert said.

Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert said the programs are incredibly popular in some parts of the world, especially in America.  Photo/NZME
Sociologist Jarrod Gilbert said the programs are incredibly popular in some parts of the world, especially in America. Photo/NZME

“The data is unequivocal – it has very little to no impact,” Gilbert said.

“In some cases, they make the problems worse.”

The programs appeal to audiences because they are easy to understand and there is “a feeling that something is being done”, according to Gilbert.

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

Gilbert preferred National to talk about the precautionary approach of a social investment model, something he said “doesn’t sound as sexy in the headlines” and has longer timelines.

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

He said that without a larger community and ecological space for young people to reintegrate into, the lessons learned at such military academies would be useless.

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

When speaking to prisoners immediately after their release from prison, Kramer said they echo messages they learned in prison such as “I’m going to get a job” or “Change my life.”

“They entered the real world and six months later those we could find had found no opportunity, they were jaded and went straight back to their old ways. They were not placed in an environment to practice these lessons.

Kramer used Rikers Island in New York as an example to demonstrate why military academies would not be an appropriate solution.  Picture/file
Kramer used Rikers Island in New York as an example to demonstrate why military academies would not be an appropriate solution. Picture/file

Kramer believes that with an increasingly difficult world for young people to navigate, such as the cost of living crisis, young people would find themselves in an economic world “unfixable with a boot camp”.

An example of youth reintegration could once be found in Christchurch, when Te Oranga took in 10 “difficult” young children where routine and structure were introduced.

It closed a year ago, and two former employees said Luxon’s new proposal needed polishing.

“It seems to me that they ship [youth offenders] out of the company for a while to get rid of the problem, and when they get back into the company, they’ll go 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 are institutionalized and cannot think for themselves.

Another employee agreed, saying a short period of time would break them out of their addictions and introduce structure, but that a community to return to would be essential to setting a good example.

“Asking young offenders how to change, how to think, is too difficult. You can’t tell someone – it takes years and so many sympathetic people around them.

However, the news was music to the ears of Sunny Kaushal, who has worked closely with the government over the past year as it defends businesses that have been victimized by raids and break-ins.

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

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

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

“The values ​​that young offenders could benefit from as they get vocational training, as they stick to their studies, that’s very important. I think that’s the right approach.

Kaushal said business owners lived in prison-like structures while being rammed, robbed and assaulted. Luxon said in his announcement that ram raids were happening every 15 hours, showing Labour’s ‘soft approach to crime’ was failing.

“These derailed young people need to show strong constructive approaches to becoming good citizens,” Kaushal said.

Luxon said on Thursday that some areas of New Zealand were harder hit than others.

“For example, 20% of all recent ram raids have taken place in the Waikato. Gang membership in the Waikato has increased 70% over the past five years and gangs are recruiting nearly three times faster than the police. Enough is enough.

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

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