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More than half of youth offenders sent on the Government's much-vaunted boot camps have been in trouble with the law after completion, figures show.

Nine of 17 people to go through the system so far have reoffended - a success rate of 47 per cent and a "good starting point", says Prime Minister John Key.

But the Government is being criticised for throwing money into a programme that is barely off the ground and is already failing to make great inroads into the recidivism rate.

The camps are part of the Fresh Start programme aimed at the most serious cases that come through the Youth Court.

There were two trials - the first started in September 2009, the second last April - and the first official camp was held last October.

Volunteers signed up for the trials, but the Youth Court now orders youths to attend a camp.

Government figures show that nine out of the 17 - or 53 per cent - who completed the trials have already reoffended.

That rate was likely to rise to between 65 and 70 per cent after two years had lapsed since completion, said Rethinking Crime and Punishment director Kim Workman.

"That means that the course will have made very little difference for most, and will have increased the likelihood of offending for some," Mr Workman said.

"At the end of the day, it is a waste of the taxpayers' money to continue with a programme that isn't working."

But Mr Key said the camps were working.

"If we can keep 50 per cent of them from reoffending, that's a good starting point.

"Obviously we'd like to keep 100 per cent, but these are kids that have often gone badly off the rails."

Mr Key met the 10 graduates of the first official camp at the end of November.

Two of them have already reoffended, but Mr Key said it was difficult to gauge the success of the programme because it was "early days".

The graduates are still receiving ongoing support and supervision to return to the community.

Mr Key said intervention programmes had merit because it cost about $90,000 to keep a person in prison, not to mention the cost of crime to the community.

The eight-week camp involves a 6.30am wake-up call, uniforms, chores, fitness activity, literacy and numeracy classes and, if necessary, alcohol and drug rehabilitation.

The camps were in part a response to poor outcomes in the Youth Court.

A report last year found that four out of five young offenders who receive the toughest sanctions reoffend within five years.