If authorities said that your child was on the path to becoming a criminal, would you consider putting them in a boot camp to address their behaviour?
How would you feel if you had no say in the matter?
It might seem unusual, but it’s a measure that was implemented by the Queensland government in 2013 – when it introduced two trial boot camps.
The “early intervention youth boot camp” is aimed at teenagers who were deemed ‘at risk’ of long term future offending, while the “sentenced youth boot camp” is targeted towards youth with a history of offending who were facing incarceration in a detention centre, or who had committed serious motor vehicle offences.
Children aged between 12 and 16 may be referred to the early intervention youth boot camp by a police officer, teacher, youth justice worker or health worker. Children must agree to attend the camps.
In contrast, a child may only be referred to the sentenced youth boot camp by a Queensland magistrate or judge.
Judicial officers are obliged to sentence young offenders to these camps where they reside in Townsville and have committed at least 3 serious motor vehicle offences.
Before making the decision to send a child to a sentenced youth boot camp, the magistrate or judge may consider pre-sentence reports prepared by juvenile justice workers, as well as medical reports, to determine whether the child is suitable.
Children aged between 13 and 17 may be referred to a sentenced youth boot camp, and attendance is compulsory regardless of the parent or child’s wishes.
Young offenders who participate in these camps are expected to take part in a range of physically challenging activities, which aim to teach them ‘discipline and respect.’
Proponents of the camps, which include Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie, say that they are effective in reducing the likelihood that young people will come into contact with the criminal justice system in the future.
He says that they are part of the government’s ‘tough on crime’ approach.
Boot camps have been considered elsewhere in the past, including Victoria, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
They were implemented across the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1980’s and 90’s, but various studies found that they were inadequately effective in achieving their desired objectives.
The data showed that the camps did not curb rates of reoffending – although the results varied depending on the focus of the camp and the activities undertaken.
The results also showed that they were not particularly cost-effective.
The studies suggested that camps which incorporated a ‘treatment option’ were the most effective.
But if treatment is the best way forward, is it really necessary to implement it in a boot camp environment?
A number of prominent youth organisations have also questioned the use of boot camps.
The Youth Affairs Network of Queensland is the peak community youth affairs body in Queensland, which acts as an advocate for the rights of young people.
It has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the programs, suggesting that there is no evidence to indicate that they are effective in rehabilitating young people and likening some of the practices employed at these camps to those used at Guantanamo Bay.
There have also been concerns raised about the discriminatory application of the legislation – namely that attendance at a sentenced youth boot camp is mandatory for children who live in Townsville and have committed 3 or more motor vehicle offences, but not for others.
Many have argued that this compulsory approach overlooks that there are different facts and circumstances of each case, as well as that not every offender is suited to boot camps.
There is also the potential for mandatory sentencing to unjustly target certain groups, such as Indigenous people.
Despite these issues, the government has defended its hardline approach to youth justice, stating that there has been a reduction in the number of motor vehicle offences committed in the Townsville region.
In October, the government announced plans to expand the mandatory boot camp order to Cairns.
It therefore seems that boot camps are set to become a permanent fixture in Queensland’s legal landscape – with little regard for the rights of young people.