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What you need to know about National’s youth offender bootcamp policy

November 22, 2022

Interviews by Stella Huggins and Casper McGuire, adapted by Stella Huggins

Photo: Canva.

Listen to the full interviews with Dr Shane Reti and Lisa Woods

National’s new policy to deal with youth offending announced this past week has garnered an immense amount of discussion.

The policy, Young Offender Military Academies, will work with the New Zealand Defence Force to deliver year-long programmes for 10 to 17 year old offenders.

On 95bFM's The Wire, National's Dr Shane Reti justified the creation of military academies as opening up “another set of tools the police and judiciary can have access to”. 

But Lisa Woods, campaign director from Amnesty International commented on the fact that the United Nations' recommendation for the age of criminal responsibility is 14.

“In Aotearoa the age is 10 years old for the most serious offences, which is ridiculously low. We have an obligation here to raise the criminal age of responsibility to at least 14.” 

Responding to a question about the lower end of the age bracket, Reti said he belived he had seen eight-year-olds doing illegal acts. 

"I accept that’s the younger age of the bracket that we’re talking about, but we know children this young are being involved in these sort of offences.”

Reti highlighted the “structured environment” that academies provide, and the “opportunity for mentorship and discipline."

He said this is a new approach to dealing with youth offending, framing academies as a “different set of tools” to deal with the problem.

But many disagree that the approach is new. Woods cited the 2015 abandonment of the concept in Queensland, Australia, “which found they failed to break the cycle of harmful behaviour.”

Data from the period showed no measurable improvements between youth detention and military academies. 

Reti denied that investing in existing programmes and services to provide additional structure for youth, is sufficient enough to “break the cycle”.

“That is not the advice we’re getting from the jurisprudence sector and police, who are of a view that this needs a complete break from the environment for some period of time."

Woods wants to see a drastically different approach and believes “we need to be making sure the interventions and support are based on evidence.

"What we know and what the evidence is really clear about, is that punitive approaches don’t work.”

She emphasised that Aotearoa needs wider structural transformations to address the underlying causes behind youth offending. 

Public interest journalism funded through NZ On Air