Psychologists condemn uninformed and ineffective ‘Boot Camp’ policies

The New Zealand Psychological Society is alarmed by the National Party’s latest plan, titled “combating juvenile delinquency”, which focuses on using power and control to tackle what they believe is a rising rate of juvenile delinquency. We are concerned about the plan to use coercive measures to ‘deal with serious repeat offenders’, the establishment of military academies for young offenders; and supported the police in tackling gangs.

The academic literature condemns the practice of ‘boot camps’, and research on racism and police bias shows that Māori and Pacific youth are overwhelmingly targeted by state and police ‘intervention’. Psychologists working in the criminal justice system have pointed to research showing that boot camp-style interventions are not only ineffective at stopping crime, but instead increase violent crime, at great cost.

Instead, steps should be taken to provide community and family-oriented services throughout life that ensure well-being and social cohesion. Support in schools and homes is needed, not military training camps. A poorly thought-out plan only leads to further systemic inequalities. Research conducted this year shows that crime rates across the country are lower than in previous years, but the media has highlighted the incidence of certain crimes while overlooking the plethora of welfare-focused interventions.

“We agree that communities should be empowered to break the cycle of crime, but we should be informed by what the evidence suggests does and does not have a positive impact. We also need to ensure that we address the underlying issues that contribute to these negative cycles, such as through increased efforts to end poverty, systemic racism, inequality and health disparities,” said Tania Anstiss, chair of the NZ Psychological Society, “Additional support is needed to provide care for culturally responsive education, mental health, drug and alcohol services in response to intergenerational trauma caused by the types of strategies National plans to impose.

While Aotearoa has yet to address the impact of state abuses on our most vulnerable, military-style forced boot camps are draconian, oppressive and ineffective. If these policies are implemented in the years to come, our children, their families and society will be left to suffer the consequences.

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