Effectiveness of boot camps 'under wraps'

The effectiveness of Government "boot camps" to straighten out the country's worst child criminals is being kept under wraps.

The eight-week military activity camps, known as Macs, are run near Christchurch and cost about $36,000 for each participant. So far 36 offenders aged 14 to 17 have completed a course as a last resort to turn their lives around.

The Social Development Ministry has refused to disclose the number and nature of offences committed by the participants before and after the camps.

Child, Youth and Family youth justice services general manager Chris Polaschek said he could not provide the details as the complete information was not held on CYF files and had not been collated from police files in a way that allowed suitable reporting at present.

Labour Party social policy spokeswoman Annette King said she suspected the silence was because the camps were failing.

"The evidence in New Zealand and internationally shows that short sharp programmes like boot camps have a very high recidivism rate."

The Macs were part of the Fresh Start Young Offenders reforms, which came into effect last October. Four Macs had been held at either Te Punawai o Tuhinapo youth justice residence or Burnham Military Camp. Two more were planned for this year.

Three participants dropped out of the first camp, a trial which started in September, and the last course was suspended after the Christchurch earthquake in February.

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said the results were "still a way off" but she had seen first-hand the effect of the camps.

"Visiting Burnham's Mac camp, I met young people with records of serious criminal offending and I spoke with their families about the radical change in attitude as a result of intensive help from specialist youth workers."

Ms Bennett said Macs were part of a programme for serious repeat youth offenders.

After the Macs, participants had a lengthy followup process, including mentoring and drug and alcohol programmes, as ordered by Youth Court judges.

"We have to see how they fare back in the community as they get that mentoring and other supports – let's give them an opportunity to complete their sentence for a true indicator of success."

Mr Polaschek said reports on the three 2010 trial Macs would be available later this year. The ministry planned to monitor participants' progress for two years after the programme.

The Dominion Post