Youth camps have failed, says Labour

MICHELLE COOKE
Last updated 05:00 14/12/2012

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Labour is calling on the Government to reassess its military-style camps for youth offenders after a report showed that more than half of those who go through the programme reoffend within six months.

The Military-Style Activity Camps (MACs) were a cornerstone of Prime Minister John Key's 2008 state of the nation speech before his election.

Each year up to 40 of the most serious youth offenders are sent to the camp, where they are taught life skills, literacy and numeracy, and "dry out" of alcohol and drug addictions, said Associate Minister for Social Development Chester Borrows.

But more than 50 per cent of those who have been out of the camps for more than six months have reoffended, including 10 youths who have committed 126 offences between them.

The results showed that the Government's approach was not working, as there were no "quick fixes", Labour social development spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said.

"I think it's now time for them to reassess."

Mr Borrows said that although boot camps were an "abject failure", the military-style initiative was different.

They were based on the success of Limited Service Volunteer camps, which were for beneficiaries, not criminal offenders, he said.

Just over 60 per cent of participants went on to reoffend but the crimes were not as serious or frequent as they had been before the programme.

A 52 per cent decline in violent offending showed the MAC camps had been a success, Mr Borrows said.

"You have got to compare what is happening afterwards with what was happening before."

Ms Ardern accepted it was "notoriously difficult" to get good results out of youth justice programmes.

They needed time, which was why Labour was so frustrated when the Government backed away from Te Hurihanga programme in favour of the MAC camps.

The Hamilton programme, which was administered by the Ministry of Justice but closed in 2010, worked with young offenders for up to 18 months, she said.

The camps were part of the 2010 Fresh Start reforms, aimed at curbing youth offending by giving the Youth Court more powers and initiating new programmes.

Mr Borrows said fewer people had been referred to family conferences or transferred from the Youth Court to the District Court.

That was because the Youth Court could now impose sentences of six months rather than three months, and there was now a range of other programmes available.

However, there was room for improvement, including providing further support to youths who were transferred from the camps or residential facilities back into the community, he said.

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Support could include matching camp residents or graduates with mentors, helping them on to a day programme, or matching them with a day manager to help them transition back into schools or jobs.

Many had a "gloomy existence" and needed support to change from a life of crime to a life in the community, Mr Borrows said.

- Fairfax Media

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