Young offenders finish first military-style camp

By Derek Cheng

The trial military activity camp (MAC) included team-building exercises foreshadowed at this camp for youth offenders in 2008 at Coopers Beach in Northland. Photo / Dean Purcell
The trial military activity camp (MAC) included team-building exercises foreshadowed at this camp for youth offenders in 2008 at Coopers Beach in Northland. Photo / Dean Purcell

The first military-style camp for the country's worst youth offenders has been completed over seven months, including a week-long outdoor wilderness experience.

The military activity camp (MAC) took place over 32 weeks and was based at the Child Youth and Family Te Puna Wai o Tuhinapo residence in Rolleston, close to the Burnham Military Base.

The scheme included a week-long outdoor camp at Lake Taylor, about a month at the MAC camp including a structured regime of physical activity, and six months of supervision.

The youths who took part had offended at the more serious end of the spectrum and, as it was a trial, they had volunteered to take part.

Based on their needs, they received behavioural therapy, educational classes - usually basic literacy and numeracy - counselling and drug and alcohol treatment, vocational training, life skills and team-building sessions.

It was run by CYF and the NZ Defence Force, with support from Corrections staff. Canterbury Youth Development provided mentoring and support for the reintegration back into the local community.

The camps drew harsh criticism at the select committee stage. They had been tried overseas before, with limited success, and previous camps in New Zealand had led to a 92 per cent re-offending rate.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett has said that it was wrong to frame the debate about "boot-camps".

"I want to emphasise that these camps are part of a wider programme of intense support and supervision. These are not boot camps. They're a modern innovation building on the success of Limited Service Volunteers."

The MACs are similar to the Defence Force-run Limited Service Volunteer camps, a six-week course aimed primarily at long-term unemployed people between 18 and 25.

Labour youth justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern asked why a MAC aimed at the country's worst youth offenders was necessary, given the success of Te Hurihanga, a successful scheme the Government said was too expensive. "They cancelled it and instead decided to trial an untested programme that could potentially fail, based on the boot-camp evidence we've seen before. It doesn't make sense."

Last night the Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders Bill was to have its third reading in Parliament. The controversial bill will give the Youth Court the power to issue a new range of compulsory orders including parenting, mentoring, and rehabilitation plans.

It also places the worst 12- and 13-year-old offenders in the jurisdiction of the Youth Court, a move criticised by Unicef as a "backward step" and at odds with New Zealand's obligation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Labour asked why the bill did not introduce measures to help young sex offenders, or include provisions to increase the role of the victim in the youth justice system. The Youth Court also supported these moves at the select committee stage.

A study last week showed that four out of five young offenders who receive the toughest Youth Court sanctions reoffend within five years, sparking comment that the current court sentences were not working.

Ms Bennett said the high recidivism rate gave weight to the importance of the bill.

The Government's Fresh Start policy to deal with youth offending is due to be in place by October, when the details of where and when the first MACs will be revealed.

YOUTH LEGISLATION

* The Youth Courts Jurisdiction and Orders Bill had its third reading in Parliament last night. The bill will

* Place in the Youth Court the worst 12- and 13-year-old offenders, traditionally dealt with in the Family Court.

* Allow a wider range of sentencing orders, including a requirement to attend a rehabilitative programme.

* Double maximum residential supervision orders from three to six months, with the maximum follow-up community supervision rising from six to 12 months.

* Double maximum supervision with activity orders from three to six months, plus six months' follow-up. These may include MACs (military activity camps), the first of which has been trialled.

- NZ Herald

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