Nationals Boot Camps will not help our kids

What do the military know about sorting out seriously troubled youth? Apparently a lot. National thinks so anyway. More than, you know, social workers, high-school teachers, psychologists… 

And I do mean youth – 14 to 17 year old crimninals. The minimum age for joining the New Zealand Army is 17.

National plans to establish a Defence-led Junior Training Academy at the Waiouru Military Camp staffed by people with a ‘military background’[i] and spend $150,000 a year each on sending 50 of the worst young criminals there.

But hey, maybe the Army guys don’t need to actually know much about the youth put in their care, their histories, families, psychology, whatever. They just need to know how to drum some discipline into them. Drill, push ups, and so on will do the trick.

If that is the idea, then the evidence tells us that we shouldn’t expect much from the Academy. Correctional boot camps first opened in United States adult correctional systems in 1983. They have been studied. Google the evidence.[ii] You will find that it is pretty clear that on average boot camps either make no difference to reoffending or actually make it worse.

I spoke to an ex-Army officer and he thought that the Army wouldn’t want the job of disciplining young criminals. National seems to have the idea that the Army is still a conscription force and is used to knocking into shape a group of young male conscripts. The New Zealand Army hasn’t conscripted young men since 1972. It is a professional army and it is not so easy to get into.

But wait, Prime Minister Bill English insists that the Junior Training Academy is not a ‘boot camp’. Because, "This is going to be different... it's worth having a crack at."[iii] Bill describes the Academy as "a year with an intensive wrap-around service."[iv] Bill is not an ignorant guy and I think he knows that boot-camp stuff doesn’t work.

The Academy may be led by the Ministry of Defence but it is a joint venture with MSD, Justice, and Education.[v] So will it be as much social welfare and school as military training? Maybe the troubled youth will be getting the social workers, high-school teachers and psychologists anyway. I hope so. But who knows. National’s policy document says that it will be staffed by people with a ‘military background’.[vi]  I guess the job advert will say that only psychologists with a military background need apply.

This policy is the kind of confussion you get when a Government knows that what it wants to say about its policy isn’t supported by the evidence. The research is not secret. The government’s advisors have read it and it will surely be in some of the advice to Ministers.

National is right to want to spend $150,000 on a year of ‘wrap around’ services for each of our most troubled young criminals, but it is sad that the money may be largely wasted because the Government is too gutless to stand up and tell the public what it knows is true.  

[i] From National’s policy document, that can be downloaded at:

[ii] You could start by searching for “campbell systematic review 'boot camp'”. 

[iii] Jo Moir. ‘PM: There's no evidence boot camps for young serious offenders will work’ (

[iv] Jo Moir. ‘PM: There's no evidence boot camps for young serious offenders will work’ (

[v] From National’s policy document, that can be downloaded at:

[vi] From National’s policy document, that can be downloaded at: