National's military academy crime proposals skewered by Government ministers, Greens

Christopher Luxon's suggestion that youth offenders need to be "reprogrammed" has been called out by Greens co-leader Marama Davidson as "absolutely disgusting". 

"The National Party need to be reprogrammed," she said. "That is what needs to happen here. The policies are lazy, they are dog-whistling, and they are not at all about what works and they are not going to interrupt the intergenerational trauma and harm that has happened." 

Davidson described herself as "outraged" at the National Party's policies announced on Thursday morning. 

They include sending teenagers to military camps if they are serious repeat offenders and subjecting some kids as young as 10 years old to electronic monitoring. 

Davidson's frustration was shared by both acting Prime Minister Grant Robertson and Justice Minister Kiri Allan.

Allan said National's policy of sending 15-17-year-olds who commit serious offences, like ram raids, to military academies run by the New Zealand Defence Force and community providers would only create more victims. 

"There's no better way to get fitter, faster, stronger, better, more well-connected criminals than by chucking them all together in an army camp to ultimately go on to form fully-fledged national networks," she said.

Robertson said similar policies in the past have failed.

He referenced a 2018 report on youth offending by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, the then-Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, which found "boot camps do not work".  

A 2016 report on military-style activity camps found just 16 percent of people involved didn't re-offend afterwards, but 79 percent offended less often and the seriousness of offending also decreased. 

Robertson said it's a failure of leadership by Luxon that his party is now "reheating" previous party policies and has "no new ideas". 

The acting Prime Minister also said New Zealand's military is busy and this is just a "populist response to a serious issue". 

"They've got important things to do, including training soldiers in Ukraine and the other jobs that we give them here."

Davidson was "outraged".
Davidson was "outraged". Photo credit: Newshub.

Davidson said National's policies are "dehumanising strategies". 

"We need the New Zealand people to understand that young people and families need the basics, need housing, health, support, income and also community healing responses," she said.

"This is what we are needing to see more of and what National are doing is whipping up a stigmatising narrative that is actually dangerous."

The Greens justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said many of the young people who are detained for crimes have previously experienced a serious trauma. 

"They deserve interventions that work and we know what they are," she said. "The experts have told us that it's mental health care, it's housing, supports to be safe in the home. Imagine re-traumatising these kids. It means they will end up in adult prisons."

She described the policies as being "embarrassing" for the National Party.

ACT, however, welcomed National saying it would support young offenders being subject to electronic monitoring, something David Seymour's party has been calling for.

"The simple logic is that it’s hard to control youth offenders if you don’t even know where they are. If young offenders have a tracking bracelet, their mates will not want them around and penalties such as staying at home at the weekend and after 5pm could be enforced," Seymour said.

"They can be used to ensure kids are going to school and not associating with other criminals.  It keeps these young offenders out of youth justice facilities, and it means they can be tracked to the scene of a crime."

Luxon previously said he didn't support ankle bracelets on children, but on Thursday said "if that has to be the case, so be it".  

Luxon announced the measures in Hamilton West ahead of the by-election there in December. He said National wanted to target the "most serious repeated young offenders" as "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." 

Luxon announced the policy in Hamilton West.
Luxon announced the policy in Hamilton West. Photo credit: Newshub.

The party's Combatting Youth Offending Plan would establish a new Young Serious Offender justice category for offenders aged between 10 and 17 who commit a serious offence. That could include a ram raid, an aggravated burglary or a serious assault "at least twice". 

Young offenders aged between 15 and 17 could be sent to the military academy for up to 12 months under the plan, while others may be ordered to undergo intensive supervision by community-based organisations. 

Luxon said this was a "powerful intervention" that he believes Kiwis will back. 

"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 the youth offenders "need to be reprogrammed and redirected very strongly" so that they are "held to account and understand there are rights and there are responsibilities to being a New Zealander". 

The National leader also brushed away suggestions that previous versions of the military academy idea had failed, saying National's current proposal is more "comprehensive". 

Mark Mitchell, National's police spokesperson, also mentioned another programme run by the NZDF called the Limited Service Volunteer (LSV) programme which he said had an 80 percent success rate. 

The LSV course is described by the Ministry of Social Development as a "training course for young people" to build "the confidence and skills to get work-ready and make a fresh start in life".

"Although those young people are volunteers, they are often young people who are drifting, they are starting to get in trouble with the law, some of them have actually had prison sentences," Mitchell said.

Deputy leader Nicola Willis, who stood in for Luxon at Parliament on Thursday, said the idea is different to previous proposals. 

"The whole purpose of these facilities, which are brand new, which is not something that have been tried before, is that we will combine the best of the military with the best of those community providers who understand mentoring, who understand what is needed to get a kid back on track," she said.

"We will take those things and we will make sure that these kids then make support when they leave."

Asked about Luxon's language of reprogramming kids, Willis said she agreed with him.

"Ten-year-olds, instead of being tucked up in bed at night, are out in illegal cars ram-raiding shops. I don't want to live in a country like that. We have got to take action."

Documents obtained by Newshub in July showed there had been a 518 percent increase in ram raids in the first six months of the year compared to the first six months of 2018. A report also found 76 percent of ram raids were committed by youths under the age of 17 and 17 percent were under the age of 13.

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.

Newshub revealed last week that the regions with the highest ram raid rates are also the regions with the highest rates of truancy. Luxon on Wednesday controversially blamed "mixed standards of leadership" across schools for low attendance levels.