National wants to send youth offenders to military academies for up to year

National wants to crack down on youth offenders it says need to be "reprogrammed" by sending them to military academies.

The party has just released its "Combatting Youth Offending Plan", which includes creating a new "Young Serious Offender" (YSO) justice category which National says is intended to target "the ringleaders of ram-raids". 

"This will apply to offenders aged 10 to 17 who have committed a serious offence such as a ram-raid, other aggravated burglary, or serious assault at least twice," National says. 

"Consequences will include being sent to a Young Offender Military Academy, electronic monitoring, or being subject to an intensive supervision order in their community."

Young offenders aged between 15 and 17 could be sent to the military academy for up to 12 months under the plan. The academies would be delivered in partnership with the Defence Force and other providers.

"The Academies will provide discipline, mentoring and intensive rehabilitation to make a decisive intervention in these young offenders' lives."

Asked whether he believes New Zealanders will back sending teenagers to military academies, National leader Christopher Luxon said Kiwis want "powerful intervention". 

"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."

Luxon said there have been versions of military academies in New Zealand before but not as "comprehensive" as what is now being proposed. He said they lead to positive results.

"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."

National's police spokesperson Mark Mitchell said New Zealand has long had the Limited Service Volunteer programme, which is also run by the NZDF for people between the age of 18 and 24.

"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."

He said the course has an 80 percent success rate "in terms of turning them around, having employment lined up for them, and allowing them to rejoin society".

By targetting 15-17 year olds, Mitchell said National wants to stop those individuals ending up in the adult justice system.

A 2018 report on youth offending by Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, then then-Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor who was appointed in 2009, found "harsh punishments have little deterrent effect on young people". 

"Boot camps do not work and "scared straight" programmes have been shown to increase crime," he wrote.

"Young offenders can find the "thrill", or emotional "high" of violent offending, and the social rewards (such as admiration from their peers), more important to them than concerns about being caught or facing social disapproval. Youth need alternative, prosocial ways to achieve engagement and social approval."

Luxon made the announcement in Hamilton West.
Luxon made the announcement in Hamilton West. Photo credit: Newshub.

Some YSOs could be ordered to undergo intensive supervision by community-based organisations under National's new plan. The party says it would fund these organisations and other non-government agencies to "break the cycle of offending". 

"This will mean they face consequences for their actions and are equipped with tools to turn their lives around, while remaining connected to their families."

The party also continues to advocate for more measures to suppress gangs, including the banning of gang patches and stopping gang members from gathering in public. 

Luxon, who made the announcement in Hamilton West ahead of the by-election there, said New Zealand's youth justice system works well for about 80 percent of first-time offenders who are "dealt with quickly and put back on the right path". 

"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," he 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." 

He said a ram raid is happening every 15 hours and that 20 percent of recent ram raids are happening in Waikato.

"Gang membership in the Waikato is up 70 per cent over the past five years and gangs are recruiting nearly three times faster than Police," Luxon said.

"Enough is enough. My message to young offenders is that under National, you will face consequences for your actions."

While National says youth offenders could be subjected to electronic monitoring, Luxon in September said he didn't support ACT's policy to put ankle bracelets on youth offenders as young as 11. 

"We wouldn't support that," Luxon said of ACT's ankle bracelet proposal in September.

"What we are saying is, look, the Government's got the balance all wrong here. We do need serious prosecutions for serious offenders.

Just last month, National's Erica Stanford was asked on AM what she thought of ACT's policy

"I, and the National Party, are not wanting to see 11-year-olds with ankle bracelets," she told AM on Friday. "Firstly, I think we need to look at how we got here and these kids are so far away from the education system because we've done nothing over the last years to keep them attached."

"We're going to whack an ankle bracelet on them? I mean, it just breaks my heart that we're even talking about this."

National's Erica Stanford last month said putting ankle bracelets on 11-year-olds break her heart.
National's Erica Stanford last month said putting ankle bracelets on 11-year-olds break her heart. Photo credit: AM.

On Thursday, Luxon said ankle braclets "are not where we want to go", but "if that has to be the case, so be it".

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.