Shake Your Bootycamp

All this talk about boots and camps is just silly stuff, writes PAT PILCHER, who has a few alternative ideas.

 

You’ve got to love election years. This is when the incumbent government throws pre-election sweeteners at voters and talks up a lot of policy ideas. Some ideas are clearly better than others.

Take National’s latest: put kids caught committing criminal acts into boot camps run by the NZ army.

It’s a terrible idea, and here’s why:

  • It Impacts on the military: New Zealand’s military already has a huge morale and engagement problem owing to constant political meddling and funding cuts from successive governments. Making the army babysitters for the nation’s criminal youth would probably see the few skilled army people who’ve stuck it out choosing to leave. I couldn’t blame them.
  • It hasn’t worked anywhere else: Nearly all the current peer academic reviewed research to date shows that similar initiatives elsewhere failed to decrease criminal offending. If it hasn’t worked overseas, why should it work here?
  • It’s a band aid on a gaping knife wound: Instead of looking at why kids commit crime and addressing the underlying root causes, the Nats have gone for a much dumber approach that they think has voter appeal, rather than solving the actual problem. Surely there are more effective uses for taxpayer dollars than this knee-jerk idiocy?
  • It’s a short-term fix: Because this initiative doesn’t address the root causes of juvenile crime, it is unlikely to make any real difference to juvenile crime statistics. Could it be that we will get more disciplined and more organised teen crims trained via the army? Not ideal, is it?
  • The long-term issues are ignored: National also announced that parents of kids caught out wandering the streets between midnight and 5am will be fined $200. The elderly tub thumper reactionaries who typically comment in daily papers may applaud the move, but the reality is that this will create more problems than it solves. Apart from the fact that curfews are the sort of totalitarian bullshit you’d expect in Stalinist Russia or Nazi Germany, fining families who are already struggling isn’t going to help anyone. Will WINZ provide loans to cover these fines? Will the fines trickle back to the taxpayer at $0.02 a month? This clearly hasn’t been thought through very thoroughly, but who cares, right? Voters will lap it up.
  • It’ll be expensive: The costs of incarcerating badly behaved kids with criminal tendencies may already cost a bomb, but trucking them down to a military base which has been retrofitted to handle them will cost even more. Spending a bunch of taxpayer money on something that hasn’t worked anywhere else in the world is not only stupid, it is also fiscally irresponsible.

And there are plenty more reasons why this policy is just nuts. Policies like this don’t work because they operate in isolation when cultural change is needed. The problem is that identifying which cultural changes are needed is a near-impossible task.

Perhaps the only real indicator of the aspects of Kiwi culture that foster such undesirable behaviour belong to a discipline developed by a prominent academic, professor Gert Hofsteder.

Using data from surveys of IBM employees from around the world, Hofsteder saw recurring themes consistently emerging across multiple cultures. Using these, Hofsteder found that he could compare different cultures. Some of the themes Hofsteder identified are as follows:

Power distance: The power distance refers to the degree that the less powerful members of society accept and expect that power is distributed unequally. This looks at how hierarchy is established and executed in society. In this context power distance would not only refer to New Zealand’s growing wealth gap, but also to how teens perceive authority.

Individualism vs collectivism: This looks at how societies value the collective good vs individuals looking at what is best for them. In a family setting it could also refer to the central role of families (eg, caring for the elderly and the elderly caring for the youngest family members) in some cultures ,and the dysfunctional state of families (eg, elderly are placed in rest homes and forgotten about, kids are left on their own as both parents work) in other cultures.

Uncertainty avoidance: The uncertainty avoidance dimension is really all about a society’s tolerance for ambiguity. Some societies opt for inflexible codes of behaviour, guidelines and laws. It could for example refer to how people respect the law in some cultures and merely see it as something that can be “gotten away with” in other cultures.

Long-term vs short-term: This looks at how some cultures take a long-term view on things while short-term oriented societies deal with what is in front of them with little regard to the longer-term consequences. Asian cultures are renowned for their ability to play the long game, whereas Western societies tend to revolve around financial quarters or election terms.

There’s a tool available online called the cultural compass that uses Hofsteders dimensions to compare different nations. Comparing New Zealand with other cultures is enlightening indeed.

Like many Western countries, New Zealand is very individualistic. “I” is more prominent than “We”. This contrasts markedly with other cultures such as Japan and China, who according to Hofsteder are more concerned about the greater good than that of the individual. This is also noticeable with short-term and long-term outlooks. Like most western societies, New Zealand is abysmal at long term and future planning.

Perhaps what is needed is more of a multi-party approach to juvenile crime with a view towards agreed goals as well as the methods used to achieve these goals, instead of a 3-year plan which has failed to achieve any sustainable and ongoing results.

Surely an approach that looks at fostering greater emphasis on families and the collective greater good with a strong outlook must be better than packing repeat offender kids who are already pissed off with society to a boot camp that will only fuel further resentment.

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