Domination, fear and violence: the state-funded boot camp that went wrong

A victim of a state-funded boot camp for trouble teens on Great Barrier Island says it "screwed me for life" after he suffered violence, fear, domination and abuse during his three month stay. 

John Da Silva, a star of kiwi wresting, established Whakapakari on the remote island on his family's land, hoping to get young lives back on track but instead the camp turned horribly wrong. 

The government began receiving complaints about Whakapakari in 1988 and for the next 16 years complaints kept coming, generating about 2000 pages of documents about the camp including claims of brutality, rape and neglect.

At the age of 14, a judge sent Scott Carr to the island after a few brushes with the law, and he has now spoken about his experience at the camp where he says staff used violence to maintain order. 

Letters kept by his mother that were sent to her while he attended the camp detail abuse he suffered, including one incident where he claims he fell unconscious after being headbutted, choked and pushed down a steep hill. 

"Reading this stuff brings me right back there," Mr Carr, now aged 34, told TVNZ's Sunday programme. 

"They broke us ...They hurt us."

"What happened screwed me for life."

Prior to the camp, Scott had no history of violence but continued to break the law when he arrived back home.

"Going to a place like that you're not going to come out healthier, you're going to come out rougher."

Lawyer Sonja Coop has represented eighty former residents of the camp, both boys and girls, who claim there were cases where people ended up "taking drugs and alcohol to blot out the abuse they have suffered."

"Alcatraz was an island where the naughty children were sent as a punishment," Ms Coop said.

"They would be dropped off there, often with water but typically no food, no tent and made to survive there for anything up to a week or two."

Social welfare bosses told the camp leader not to send kids to the rocky outcrop but they kept doing it. 

Some of the children that were sent to the camp were not violent but had serious mental health issues but there was no social worker on the island and no access to counselling.

The former Minister for Child, Youth and Family says she was left in the dark by her officials. 

"I actually know more from talking to you in your preparation for this programme than I learnt from Child, Youth and Family.

"It's unbelievable that I wasn't alerted to this.

"How did it go on for this length of time?"

It was only in 2004 that allegations were finally believed and the camp was later shut down. 

Anne Tolley is relying on her ministry to handle abuse claims from Whakapakari residents. 

"My understanding is we've settled with about 15 victims and we're in the process of dealing with others."

Watch the full Sunday clip on demand here.

Scott Carr was sent to the camp on Great Barrier Island where he claims he was head butted, choked and fell unconscious. Source: Sunday

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