Māori psychologists pen an open letter to Luxon over boot camp policy – New Zealand Herald

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National plans to send repeat youth offenders to boot camps. Photo / Getty
This letter from He Paiaka Tōtara: Māori Psychologists, raises our serious concerns with the National Party’s recently announced policy for combating youth crime, which includes ankle bracelets for tamariki as young as 10, and sending serious youth offenders to “Young Offender Military Academies”.
Tēnā koe Mr Luxon,
Military-style boot camps do not work!
Over the past decade the issue of “boot camps” as a solution for tamariki and rangatahi offending in Aotearoa has been raised and rejected multiple times. There continues to be a solid evidence base across multiple sources demonstrating “military-style boot camps” for young people do not work.
For example, a recent international review concludes the evidence shows military-style boot camps were not only ineffective in reducing youth crime and violence, they were expensive. We are certainly not aware of any evidence regarding the effectiveness of military-style boot camps specifically for tamariki and rangatahi Māori.
As psychologists, we see across the whole system and are acutely aware of the systemic over-representation of tamariki and rangatahi Māori across youth justice statistics. As a result, we know it is Māori whānau who will disproportionately suffer the consequences of such flawed policy making. Short-term, reactive, punitive actions reminiscent of the borstals now under investigation in the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care have never been the solution for complex issues.
To suggest otherwise totally ignores the evidence base which has clearly articulated for some time the structural drivers which underpin the criminal justice system.
The report regarding Māori involvement in State Care 1950-1999, prepared for the Crown Secretariat of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in State Care, emphasises the well-evidenced intergenerational harms that tamariki Māori and whānau have suffered as a result of enduring structural and systemic racism across multiple settings.
The trajectory of over-representation of Māori across welfare, justice, and mental health is likewise well documented. Concerns about the over-representation of tamariki Māori and rangatahi in youth justice statistics have been voiced since the 1980s. A recognised “pipeline” into the criminal justice system, the psychological, cultural, emotional and physical harms of state care have for over five decades rippled out intergenerationally; far beyond individuals, to whānau, hapū, and iwi Māori.
This intergenerational trauma is evident across higher rates of incarceration, domestic abuse, unemployment, homelessness, mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction and reduced educational opportunities. The report also concludes inequitable treatment has been a characteristic of Māori engagement with the courts, police, and welfare, with this likely to have directly influenced contemporary rates of Māori imprisonment and offending. As is emphasised by the New Zealand Psychological Society, your baseless youth offending policy will lead to further systemic inequity for Māori.
A blue-print for systemic transformation and partnership with Māori, Puao Te Ata Tuiii identified over 30 years ago that profound misunderstanding and ignorance regarding the place of the child in Māori society and the relationship with whānau, hapū and iwi structures, lay at the heart of many of the issues we face. “Military-style boot camps” are yet another example of punitive policy making which will serve to block and suppress effective therapeutic interventions for tamariki and rangatahi.
Te Pā harakeke is a traditional concept utilising the harakeke (flax) bush to guide ways of thinking about how to achieve and support whānau Māori, who may have struggles. It is not about one isolated harakeke, but about ensuring that the Pā harakeke is embodied with supportive relationships.
It is about providing the range of supports necessary for whānau as they raise tamariki who are able to reach their own aspirations alongside those of their whānau. A range of transformative Māori-led, whānau-centred solutions which activate the essence of Te Pā harakeke and position whānau as the solution already exist and have done so for some time, for example, Whānau Ora, Mahi a Atua, Ngā Kōti Rangatahi, and Hohou Rongo.
If we as a society are genuinely seeking transformative, sustainable solutions which will benefit us all, these are the types of solutions we must see amplified across policy platforms and investment.
Ngā mihi,
Members of He Paiaka Tōtara, a collective of Māori psychologists trained, registered and working in New Zealand, as well as those who support the Indigenous psychology kaupapa, have come together to comment and respond to issues raised in the National Party’s recently announced policy for combating youth crime.
Dr. Michelle Levy (Registered Psychologist) Dr. Andre McLachlan (Clinical Psychologist), Lisa Cherrington (Mataora, Registered Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Julie Wharewera-Mika (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Erana Cooper (Clinical Psychologist/ Neuropsychologist), Dr. Tracy Haitana (Clinical Psychologist), Megan Fitzpatrick (Registered Psychologist) Sharon Rickard (Clinical Psychologist), Holly Coombes (Clinical Psychologist) Dr. Pikihuia Pomare (Clinical Psychologist), Nicole Mincher (Educational Psychologist) Ellen Warhurst (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Ainsleigh Cribb-Su’a (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Casey Mendiola (Clinical Psychologist), Dr Siaan Nathan (Clinical Psychologist), Hemaima Wihongi (Clinical Psychologist), Horiana Jones (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Kiri Tamihere-Waititi, Sarika Rona (Educational Psychologist) Dr. Jessica Gerbic (Clinical Psychologist), Associate Professor Mohi Rua (Registered Psychologist) Helen Lenihan (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Karmen Billing (Clinical Psychologist) Paris Pidduck (Clinical Psychologist), Pania Thompson (Clinical Psychologist), Dr. Tahlia Kingi (Clinical Psychologist), Margaret Hinepo Williams (PhD Hauora Māori Public Health and Psychology), Catherine Pihema (Clinical Psychologist) Parewahaika Harris (Clinical Psychologist).

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