National's leader, John Key, has wowed both sides of the law and order debate - as long as you don't call his Fresh Start programme a boot camp.
Garth McVicar of the hardline Sensible Sentencing Trust and Kim Workman, director of the liberal Prison Fellowship, yesterday welcomed the Fresh Start scheme - a proposed new Youth Court sentence of up to a year, including up to three months of "residential training at, for example, Army facilities".
Mr McVicar said opponents were bound to label the scheme a boot camp. "Call it what you will - discipline, accountability, responsibility works," he said. "We've just become politically correct and operating a social experiment. It's been a dismal disaster. I think what John Key is putting out there is the first time I have seen a political party offer some constructive policy which I believe will turn this around."
But Mr Workman, a former Deputy Secretary of Justice who now leads a campaign to replace prison with more effective interventions, welcomed Mr Key's plan as "a discernible shift from the 'tough-on-crime' rhetoric of yesteryear".
"A recent international review of prisons and boot camps confirms earlier research - that they have no positive impact on offenders and usually result in an increase in recidivism," he said.
"Fresh Start, on the other hand, promises to use the most advanced expertise in youth offending that New Zealand has to offer, and describes an environment which provides a mix of accountability and support."
Mr Workman said programmes such as Limited Services Volunteers and Papatoetoe's Pro-Active Venture "bear no resemblance to old-style boot camps".
"One of the reasons for the failure of earlier programmes ... has been the lack of support and mentoring after the offender completes the sentence. The policy has recognised this as an issue and that's a promising start."
Mr Key's plan would let Youth Courts order young offenders on to mentoring programmes such as those run by Project K and Big Buddy.
Project K co-founder Graeme Dingle said this was "absolutely common sense" - but denied that the "wilderness experience" element in Project K was a "boot camp".
The project takes about 700 14-year-olds from 50 high schools each year, giving them three weeks in the wilderness followed by community service, education and mentoring once home for a year.
"At the moment we don't get referrals from the courts but we have been looking at going down that path."
Richard Aston, who started the Waitakere-based mentoring programme Big Buddy for boys who need male role models, said Mr Key visited the scheme last February and made "a strong connection with us".
He said mentoring showed "huge promise" for youth offenders, but mentors need to be well trained and backed by strong professional support.
"It's not a safe relationship with volunteers. A seriously angry 16-year-old takes a fair amount of skill to deal with."
* JOHN KEY'S YOUTH PLAN
John Key yesterday released National's Youth Plan, which he says is designed to give young New Zealanders the opportunity and responsibility to better themselves, no matter what their circumstances, abilities or track record.
A universal education entitlement for all 16- and 17-year-olds allowing them to access, free of charge, a programme of educational study towards school-level qualifications.
Those who are not working, and who fail to take up this new entitlement, will not be eligible to receive a benefit.
Powers to the Youth Court to deal with 12- and 13-year-olds accused of serious offences.
A new range of compulsory orders in the Youth Court including:
a) Parenting courses to address problems at home that may be contributing to a young person's offending.
b) Providing role models to young offenders for a period of up to 12 months.
c) Drug and alcohol rehabilitation programmes with funding to get young offenders sober.
Tougher sentences including:
a) Longer residential sentences of up to six months in a Youth Justice facility.
b) Fresh Start Programmes - a year-long, intensive boot-camp style programme designed to instil discipline and address underlying causes of offending (including up to three months of residential training at, for example, an Army facility).
c) Non-compliance with the court-ordered supervision would result in electronic monitoring using an ankle bracelet.