'What boot camps teach young offenders is how to be fitter and faster little crims'
The issues of Te Ikaroa-Rāwhiti are explored in this edition of the Te Wero series of debates surveying the Māori electorates during the leadup to the General Election on 23 September.
In this debate the sitting MP, Labour’s Meka Whaitiri, Māori Party candidate Marama Fox and Green Party candidate Elizabeth Kerekere disagree about a number of issues, but not that of boot camps. On that policy recently announced by the National Party of putting youth offenders into army-based training and rehabilitation, they speak as one.
“We just think it’s a load of crap," says Meka Whaitiri from the Labour Party. Targeting 150 of the serious offenders will, she suggests, simply teach them how to be fitter and faster little crims. Instead, she would rather the effort went on other young people who are not such serious offenders. “I’m just saying this is a waste of time. It’s a distraction and we should be focusing on the positives of our young people and having policies to enable them rather than to incarcerate them.”
Green Party candidate Elizabeth Kerekere ascribes the policy to the National Party’s anxiety about the coming election: “I would say that this is a sign that National is getting scared, because they’re pulling out another version of the race card.” She is sure that if they were put into action, boot camps would be counter-productive. “Research all says not only are they not effective, they usually make the children worse. It is in and of itself quite an abusive, violent situation. This is not youth development. It’s not doing what is good for our young people at all.”
“I borderline want to swear about it," says Marama Fox of the Māori Party. "It makes me so freaking angry. Because boot camps don’t work. They’ve never worked. They are a pathway to abuse and incarceration and if we don’t deal with the underlying issues of why they are there, they will continue to commit crime forever.”
“When we change what we do in the four walls of our own home, we will change our society. Our young people deserve our love, they deserve our trust, and I’m appalled by this.”
As a counter to what boot camps represent, Fox cites the example of a decile one school which achieved a 100% pass rate for its students in NCEA in 2016: “Te Wharekura o Rakaumangamanga got the highest pass rates for NCEA levels 1, 2 and 3. It beat every other well-paid private school in this country. What did they have that was different in this area of great social deprivation in Huntly? They had language. Culture. And identity.”
That, she believes, is the way to deal with social problems affecting Māori youth. Not the way of boot camps.
This programme recorded at the Whirikoka campus of Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Gisborne was produced by Te Whakaruruhau o Ngā Reo Irirangi Māori and supported by Te Māngai Paho and the Māori Media Network.