First Government detention bootcamps to be shorter than expected

First Government detention bootcamps to be shorter than expected
Photo credit: Getty

By Phil Pennington of RNZ

The first of the government's boot camps will start next month and involve a lot less detention of the teenagers than expected.

RNZ has learned Oranga Tamariki has begun asking non-government organisations for help.

The ministry's request to them says the young person will have only three months detained in a "residential setting".

National's original policy had been to send serious repeat young offenders away "for up to 12 months".

The camp will involve "military-style activities" and a special curriculum, Oranga Tamariki said.

For the following nine months, the teens will be in the community with whānau involvement and one-on-one support from the same mentor.

The launch is scheduled for 29 July with a first cohort of up to 10 young people aged 15 to 17.

'Intensive mentor service'

The three-stage pilot from July begins with an assessment of the offender "before they are selected to join the academy", and drawing up a transition plan, Oranga Tamariki said in its email to non-government organisations.

"It aims to help teenagers who have serious and persistent criminal offending behaviour to develop new skills and move into education or employment."

The young person will have been sentenced to a supervision with residence order and previously been in a Youth Justice residence. They will come from all over the country.

Oranga Tamariki is aiming to set up an "intensive mentor service" for each teen for the full 12 months.

"The same mentor works consistently with each teenager and their whānau, at a 1:1 ratio, as a continuous relationship holder," the ministry said.

"This cannot be a shared role with one or more mentors.

"Alongside the Oranga Tamariki social worker, the mentor works intensively and in-person with both the teenager and their whānau."

It was important organisations had experienced mentors good to go "due to the timeframes driven by the official launch of the Academy on 29 July 2024", Oranga Tamariki said.

Government papers from early 2024 said OT was working with the police and Defence Force on the boot camps, but it is not clear how much those two agencies have to do with it - they are both very stretched for resources.


Children's Minister Karen Chhour has previously said her first priority was to ensure the transition period from the residential boot camp worked well, with follow-up support when young people get out.

Official reviews show previous experiments with boot camps in New Zealand had foundered at the transition step, putting in too few resources.

Community groups working with young people shared ideas on this late last year, and they too stressed the transition was crucial.

A literature review of boot camps, led by the Billy Graham Youth Foundation and Impact Lab, said they could be effective at reducing the rate of reoffending in the first 18 months but in the long term - two years or more - the impact on reoffending rates was "small to nil".

The Foundation's research said since the 1990s, boot camps "began to shift away from the strict disciplinary style, towards a model that included tailored, long-term support, therapeutic elements ... they often retained 'military' in the name, remained highly structured, and were delivered by military staff. However, the emphasis shifted from punishment to support and development".

Internationally, it was shown this approach had a "slightly stronger effect on re-offending". Some studies showed that short term, teenagers felt better for going through them.

But to motivate them to change,"military-style residential programmes must structure their intervention in a manner that is less likely to be interpreted as coercive".

Coercion did not work, but court-ordered programmes could, the literature review said.