03 Oct Is bootcamp the answer for NZ’s young offenders?
Youth offenders who are out of control almost without exception come from a chaotic home environment where discipline is completely lacking and lawless activity is going unchecked by parental authority from an early age. Discipline and structure needs to be brought back into these young people’s lives so they can experience a different way of living before they are too hardened to be open to different choices than the criminal pathway they are currently on.
A year of rigorous physical and mental activity within the structure and discipline of military life will be a serious wake up call for these young people, challenging existing patterns of anti-social behaviour and providing a template for life based on team work, self-respect and achievement. While a year of boot camp may help build discipline, structure and self-confidence what will be each young person’s outlook at the end of the boot camp year?
While National’s plan has merit, research suggests boot camps don’t ultimately get the desired results. A finite ending to the boot camp programme is going to leave a hole in the young person’s life. No one can just be ‘fixed.’ People need networks of support and vision for their future to stay on track.
As part of its reintegration service for recidivist and serious offenders RAW recognises key barriers to achieving successful re-integration into society include:
- Associating with previous contacts
- Returning to a familiar and negative environment
- Limited, if any, access to support, skill building, direction and trusted dependable relationships
- A disconnection, stigmatisation and rejection by mainstream society.
Lastly, RAW advocates each offender needs a purpose and creative input to provide long term opportunity, or they simply revert to what they know best within a world where their criminal activity is seen as normal. Simply allowing these young offenders to return ‘home’ at the end of boot camp without employment or engagement in study to fulfil an identified personal purpose, will quickly see them return to their disruptive former lives and criminal activity.
Nor can we expect them to remain disciplined without some support network in place to provide structure and accountability. After all, prisons provide structure and support, offering some excellent rehabilitation programmes. However, the day a prisoner is released, for many the only support in place is a weekly Probation appointment.
For most former offenders the temptations and demands of life in the community can become hard to manage where every day they have to make choices compared to life in prison where all your significant choices, including when you will eat and sleep, are made for you. It doesn’t matter how good a rehabilitation programme is, without support to implement what an offender has learnt during a programme, on release from prison they will instinctively find support within their old network of associates and quickly slip back into predictable patterns of behaviour and crime.
The Waiouru Academy is a good starting point. The challenge is what will each young person come out with – a purpose, long term support to achieve their goals, a network of trusted and dependable relationships and the drive and ambition to achieve their goals; or will they simply see boot camp as doing time so they can go ‘home’ to their gang and slip back into the criminal world they know. It won’t be at day 365 on graduation that counts, it will be what happens on day 366 and onward that will really matter.