Jacinda Ardern slaps down National's boot camp policy, is confused by Christopher Luxon's 'reprogrammed' remark

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has dismissed the National Party's proposal to send misbehaving youngsters to boot camps as an already tried and "failed policy". 

She's also confused by what National leader Christopher Luxon meant when he said young offenders need to be "reprogrammed".

The National policy announcement came on Thursday as the party tries to highlight its so-called tough-on-crime credentials. 

If elected, it plans to send 15- to 17-year-olds who commit at least two serious offences to military camps, while other young offenders could be subject to electronic monitoring or intensive supervision.

"National's Combatting Youth Offending Plan targets the most serious repeat young offenders and will disrupt crimes like ram-raids by removing the ringleaders, some of whom have gang connections," Luxon said.

"Labour's current approach is to wring its hands and do nothing. That's not working for business owners getting a call at 2am to say a car has smashed through their shop, which has been looted. Doing nothing is also not helping offenders whose lives are destined for mayhem and misery unless there's a circuit breaker." 

Ardern, speaking from Thailand, said it's just reheated policy from the centre-right party.

"For me, maybe it's a sign I have been in politics for a while because I think this is possibly the second, or possibly the third, time I have seen boot camps emerge as a policy," she said. "Every time the same issue arises, they don't work. They don't work."

She said children come out of the boot camps and still reoffend "often stronger and faster".

Ardern says National's idea has been tried before and failed.
Ardern says National's idea has been tried before and failed. Photo credit: Getty Images / Newshub.

A 2018 report on youth offending by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the then-Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, found "boot camps do not work" and similar programmes "have been shown to increase crime".

Military-style activity camps were run under Sir John Key's Government. A 2016 report showed 84 percent of those involved reoffended afterwards. However, 79 percent reoffended less often and the seriousness of offending reduced significantly. 

Ardern said it's not good enough for National to just be proposing ideas.

"I think it is a sad situation if your main argument for a policy is that it is at least a policy. If it is a failed policy, I am sorry, that is not going to take us any further here."

She said the Government acknowledged there has been a spike in ram raids and police were catching those involved and working with their families. 

"Intervening where it makes a difference, that is what we are doing. Boot camps don't work."

Luxon on Thursday said there have been versions of military academies in New Zealand previously, but the new proposal is more "comprehensive" and will lead to positive results. 

"Putting them in with the New Zealand Defence Force who know how to turn lives around and keep people focused and disciplined and taking responsibility for their own personal responsibility is a good thing. I think it is going to be very well received," he said.

"These are kids who need to be reprogrammed and redirected very strongly, be held to account, and understand there are rights and there are responsibilities to being a New Zealander."

The suggestion the children need to be "reprogrammed" has been controversial. 

Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson said it was "absolutely disgusting" and it was the National Party that actually needed the reprogramming.

Ardern didn't know what Luxon meant by it. 

"I don't know what that means."

While ram raids were occurring nearly every night for a period earlier this year, RNZ reported earlier in November that police say there has been a "sustained downward trend" recently.

"When we look at it over a couple of months that's a good thing, but it's still early days," said National Retail Investigation Support Unit Manager Matthew Tierney.

The Government established a $6 million fund in May to support business owners affected by a spike in ram raids. The money, which comes from the Proceeds of Crime Fund and is managed by police, is intended to pay for physical barriers outside stores, such as bollards or planter boxes.

However, there have been questions over whether this money is being rolled out quick enough to businesses.

The Government also announced in September that it is expanding a number of schemes that seek to re-engage youth in education and provide them with wrap-around services to steer them away from crime.