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New sentencing category for youth offenders draws criticism

2 July, 2024

Interviews by Castor Chacko, Oto Sequiera, and Rawan Saadi, adapted by James Russell

National MP Tom Rutherford says military-style boot camps will give young offenders an ‘opportunity to turn their lives around’, while the Green Party’s Ricardo Menéndez March argues that the government is ‘once again… completely ignoring evidence’.

Last Sunday, Children’s Minister Karen Chhour outlined a new sentencing category for young offenders, allowing the Youth Court and police to send serious offenders between the ages of 14-17 to military style academies or boot camps. 

Chhour claims this new category would hold young offenders more accountable, and allow the Youth Court and Police to make interventions more easily.

National Party MP Tom Rutherford told 95bFM’s The Wire that piloting military-style academies would help young offenders to turn their lives around, aiding National in their bid to ‘restore law and order in New Zealand’.

"We want to say to those young people: we actually believe in you, we want to give you a second chance, we want to give you an opportunity to make you worthwhile and meaningful New Zealand citizens - so that they can make a positive contribution to our society.”

In a separate interview, the Green Party’s Ricardo Menéndez March told 95bFM’s The Wire that there was enough evidence, both domestically and overseas, to prove that these types of academies don’t work.

“We need investments in the areas that prevent crime in the first place, and genuine rehabilitation interventions to support people - particularly young people who may find themselves criminalised - rather than putting them in an experiment that hasn’t been shown to work.”

The military-style boot camps proposal joins the government’s raft of ‘tough on crime’ policies designed to address what they claim is an increase in violent crime and theft, particularly by young people. 

Along with military-style academies, the coalition government is preparing to push forward the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill proposed by the previous government. 

If passed, the bill would specifically criminalise ram-raiding, allowing the prosecution of 12-13 year olds involved regardless of previous offences and the collection of bodily samples from 12-13 year olds held before the Youth Court for ram-raiding offences.

Founder of Kick Back, Aaron Hendry, told 95bFM’s The Wire that there is no evidence that the bill will prevent harm from occurring.

“All the evidence we have says that when you punish children who are already really harmed - when you use punitive measures - you are more likely to increase the harm in our community.”

“It risks further criminalising children as young as 12 and pushing them into a pathway of long term interaction with the justice system. That can be hugely detrimental.”

“It doesn’t respond to children in a way that fits with their development.”

Listen to the interview with Tom Rutherford here

Listen to the interview with Ricardo Menéndez March here

Listen to the interview with Aaron Hendry here