The practice I work at is responsible for the health of the kids who go through the “Fresh Start” camps – John Key’s boot camps for young offenders. I say this at the beginning of this post as a declaration that I have a small financial interest in these camps. Don’t let that fool you though – I was fairly skeptical when the camps were initially announced. At the time, I had no idea I would be working with these youths.
I must say, I was pleasantly surprised by what I have seen so far. I have treated a number of young people who have started out aggressive and bristling with attitude. By the end of the camp they appear to be taking a real pride in their appearance and are far less “prickly”, even respectful. It is hard to say how much of this has stuck and how much is simply camouflage to keep the training officers “sweet”. Even so, the change is impressive.
Contrast this with the recidivism results:
“Nine of 17 people to go through the system so far have reoffended – a success rate of 47 per cent and a “good starting point”, says Prime Minister John Key.
“But the Government is being criticised for throwing money into a programme that is barely off the ground and is already failing to make great inroads into the recidivism rate.”
If we are talking about only 17 youths, then this is only the first camp “graduates” (or, possibly, survivors!) from September 2009, about 18 month down the line. The general rate of reoffending at 1 year according to government statistics is 42-49%, depending on the type of offense (these are youths with court supervision orders so they are, technically, less likely to offend). A reoffending rate of 53% is therefore not great. However, I am not silly enough to suggest, like Kim Workman does in the article, that this means that boot camp is more likely to make youth offenders reoffend. For one thing, the initial numbers are absurdly small to make any realistic conclusion. For another, it is quite likely that the initial batch of kids are those with minor property offenses rather than violence offenses (which often attract jail time). The recidivism rate for property offenses is, surprise, surprise, 55%.
Finally, the reoffending rate is a fairly blunt measure as it encompasses a large number of offenses. One would have to dig into those new offenses to see if they were “softer” than the initial offense. A burglar who reoffends with drunk and disorderly is a different kettle of fish to the one who reoffends by aggravated assault.
Despite the snide remarks of the left, who wish to add this to the long list of John Key’s imaginary failures, the boot camp program shows promise. Even if only one or two percent of kids straighten out their lives it will be worth it. I suspect a much larger percentage will still gain from the experience while not quite making the “model citizen” list (i.e. still engaging in some criminal activity). Even if the effort is finally found to be a failure, it is certainly better to have tried something other than liberal hand-wringing.
It is likely that National will continue this through to 2014, assuming they win the election (Please, God, I don’t think I could stand Phil AND Winston). At this time, there should be enough numbers to do a proper analysis of its effectiveness rather than the puerile sniggering that would rather see young people fail just so that National looks bad. I fail to see how these people have the interests of youth at heart.