Boot camps for teen crims in Nats' plan

Modern approach; not a tyrant scaring kids straight, Key says

Last updated 12:14 29/01/2008
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post
YOUTH FOCUS: National leader John Key unveiled the party's youth justice policy during his state of the nation speech this afternoon.

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Hard-core teenage criminals face army boot camps with compulsory treatment for those with drug and alcohol problems under National's youth justice policy, unveiled today by leader John Key.


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Parents of young offenders will also be made to undergo courses to address household problems that lead their children into lives of crime, with community work or fines for those who refuse.

National will also make existing government plans to raise maximum youth custody sentences from three to six months a priority and will extend Youth Court jurisdiction to 12 and 13-year-olds with tougher sentences, including electronic monitoring for those breaching supervision orders.

The promises were a cornerstone of Mr Key's annual state of the nation speech, delivered in Auckland this afternoon and seen as his most important address before the election campaign.

As reported by The Dominion Post this morning, the speech outlined a range of measures aimed at 16 and 17-year-old who are not in education, training or employment, including free courses for those who have dropped out of school.

That carrot will be accompanied by a stick barring youths in this age group from receiving benefits unless they are genuinely too sick to take up training, education or work.

But the biggest hit of Mr Key's speech, delivered to a group of party faithful, was a new youth crime policy ensured to strike a nerve with voters after a weekend spate of  stabbings by teenagers.

Most attention is likely to focus on National's proposed "Fresh Start Programmes", which will last up to a year and include up to three months' residential training at facilities such as army bases.

"Fresh Start Programmes are not going to be some sort of short-term camp run by a tyrannical sergeant-major, which attempts to scare kids straight. What I'm talking about is a much more modern approach that tackles the underlying causes of criminal offending.  I want to take the effective elements of army-type training and combine them with the most advanced expertise in youth offending and rehabilitation that New Zealand has to offer.''

He said programmes such as mountaineer Graeme Dingle's Foundation for Youth Development were the sort of scheme that would be funded under the plan.

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National would also lower the age at which young criminals could be dealt with by the Youth Court, and increase the range and severity of sentences on offer.

Mr Key said the policy, which included major funding boosts for drug and alcohol, supervision, mentoring and other rehabilitation programmes, would be costly, but would be money well spent.

"The problem I am talking about today is the group of serious persistent offenders. In the view of Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft, this is a group of about 1,000 young people. Too often, these kids are simply sifted through the youth justice system and into adult courts in what can become a shoddy game of pass-the-parcel.

"I don't think it's good enough to simply throw up our hands and allow these troublesome teens to become life-long criminals. Good, law-abiding Kiwis end up paying the price. We must act now to defuse these unexploded human time-bombs."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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