Boot camps now law in Queensland

When all else fails, it must be time to go back to the very basics. This is, perhaps, the thinking behind a new youth justice initiative in the Australian state of Queensland.

Frustrated by high levels of youth crime, the government has decreed that enough is enough.

In a first for Australia, it has passed a law empowering magistrates to use their courts to sentence young offenders to boot camp orders.

Under the system, offenders will spend a month in a facility where the emphasis is on high levels of physical activity, health training and also assistance with substance abuse programs. Additional penalty periods, ranging from two to five months, will involve community work under strict supervision. Importantly, in many cases, family involvement in this process will aim to create new behavioural patterns.

The boot camp concept originated in the United States as a term for military recruit training where inductees or draftees were given shock introductions to a strict physical and disciplinary regime that had little resemblance to their previous civilian way of life.

The phrase shape up or ship out arose from this kind of challenging exposure to a process designed as much to stimulate mental toughness as to cultivate physical stamina.

Queensland’s trial of boot camps will initially happen in two regional areas: Cairns where indigenous youth crime rates are unacceptably high and the Gold Coast where the tinseltown attractions of a major tourist resort seem to prompt strange behaviours. High youth unemployment in both areas is also a major contributing factor.

Another facet of the government frustration – and one shared increasingly by the community – is what it referred to as the revolving door of the court system. It is not just young people who too often are given a token slap on the wrist for their misdemeanours.

For reasons which ordinary people find impossible to understand, recidivist repeat offenders are continually set free by the courts on easy bail conditions when there is almost no doubt whatsoever that they will break the law again.

Citizens are left to wonder just what goes through the minds of those administering justice in our name and why so many people with similarly lax attitudes to enforcement of the law – and the accompanying stipulated penalties – are elevated to positions of judicial authority.

It is likely this new approach to youth crime will spark criticism suggesting the government has adopted a redneck approach. Equally, it is likely such a response will come from the do-gooder element seemingly willing to keep turning the other cheek until their faces are black and blue.

For the rest of us, we will watch with interest and hope that a different approach will yield results far improved from what has gone before.

And, of course, there is no escaping parental responsibility in all of this. It is futile for older generations to shake their heads in admonition when we were the ones who moulded the parents of these young offenders. This shame is shared by many.