The first Juvenile Boot Camp was established in Georgia in 1983, becoming popular for its ability to control the behavior of young individuals. Although boot camps were previously used in the adult system, there were concerns about their suitability for delinquents prior to being adopted by the juvenile system. However, due to an increase in juvenile offenders and overcrowding in facilities, correctional officers turned to boot camps as an alternative solution.
So, what exactly is a boot camp? It is a military-style training program that prioritizes discipline and unwavering obedience to orders. These programs have multiple objectives such as instilling morals and values, holding offenders accountable for their actions, and enhancing academics (Austin, Jones & Bolyard, 2). For juveniles, boot camps are generally seen more as correctional facilities rather than punitive measures.
Inquiring about the effectiveness, cost, quantity, and procedures of boot camps for juveniles is crucial. Additionally, understanding which type of juveniles are commonly sent to these camps and the various ways in which they help in straightening them up is important. Furthermore, exploring alternative options to boot camps is equally fascinating. Consequently, the answers to these inquiries present a compelling insight.
One aspect of Juvenile boot camps revolves around their effectiveness. Studies have demonstrated that boot camps aid in addressing overcrowding and reducing prison costs. However, they fail to decrease recidivism rates. Effective programs can alleviate the burden on taxpayers by demonstrating the efficient use of funds. Nevertheless, data indicates that boot camps in various states, such as Oklahoma and Georgia, have not resulted in a decrease in the number of rearrested boot camp graduates (Bourque national survey, 7). A study conducted in Oklahoma revealed that nearly half of the boot camp graduates returned to prison after 29 months, compared to only 28 percent of non-violent offenders sentenced to the Department of Corrections. In Georgia, researchers found minimal differences between the two programs (Salerno 151). Bourque also noted a significant drop-out rate in boot camps, with many participants leaving due to medical, personal, or disciplinary reasons. Those who drop out often end up serving longer prison terms (Bourque ns, 8).
After juvenile graduates from boot camps, they typically enter an aftercare program with varying services offered by different sites. These programs aim to build upon the behavior, attitude, and education instilled during boot camp. However, without constant surveillance, the juveniles often revert back to their old habits. The aftercare programs do not maintain the intense discipline and structure of the boot camp phase, which leads to a loss of focus and motivation for the graduates. Additionally, the lack of engaging activities leaves them susceptible to getting into trouble. Bourque (b.c. j.o., 7) suggests that increased time spent on aftercare can decrease recidivism rates, making juvenile boot camps more attractive.
Although not all juveniles are sent to boot camps, most programs focus on youthful offenders with a few exceptions. In New York, juveniles must be under 39 years old, while in New Orleans they must be under 45 years old. Typically, these programs give priority to first-time offenders who have been convicted of non-violent or drug-related crimes such as property offenses or felonies that caused no harm and resulted in minimal financial loss.
(Austin, 3) According to Austin (3), youths who have previously been incarcerated have a lower chance of survival during aftercare. Boot camps have been in existence for several years and operate based on two main processes for selecting offenders. The first process involves the sentencing court having the ultimate authority in admitting an offender into a boot camp program. Sometimes, the court recommends certain offenders for consideration by the program staff. The second process involves the program staff screening the offenders to ensure they meet the admission criteria. Once an offender meets the criteria, a recommendation is made to the court to sentence them to the boot camp program. In some cases, the sentencing judge can directly order boot camp commitments (Austin, 6). However, Parent (1989) argues that the decision to enter a boot camp program may not be as voluntary as it appears when an offender is given the option of a few months in boot camp versus several years in prison.
The price of boot camps is an important consideration in determining their value. Researchers estimate that the daily costs for these programs range from $66 to $75 per youth, depending on the city (Bourque B.c.j.o., 8). This cost is relatively lower compared to alternative state and local facilities. Therefore, boot camp programs have significant implications for potential cost savings and the need for aftercare supervision. The longer the camp duration, the more challenging it becomes to achieve savings from reduced institutionalization days. However, shorter camps may require longer and more closely supervised aftercare in the community, making it more expensive (Bourgue b.c. j.o. 8). The current approach to boot camps generally involves shorter periods of placement compared to prison sentencing. Consequently, this frees up bed space, reduces overcrowding, and lowers prison confinement costs. A survey reveals that residential boot camp lengths vary from a few weeks to six months (Bourque bc jo 8).
Since 1985, boot camps have experienced significant growth. The first program, which originated in Georgia, initially had 50 beds. However, the adoption of this alternative was initially slow, with only four boot camp programs in existence by January 1987. Nonetheless, the number of boot camps started to increase later that year. In a survey conducted in 1993, researchers found that there were 52 programs across 32 states, and Georgia and New York alone had over 1,000 beds. Additionally, three other states were seriously considering implementing boot camp programs (Bourque National, 8).
The growth of boot camps is motivated by political interest at different levels, including local politicians and the Federal Government. One instance is the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which provided $24.5 million for building and running boot camps (Parent 1).
Juvenile boot camps are primarily situated on active or decommissioned military bases. State agencies choose these locations in collaboration with the secretary of defense, who supervises program administration if approved (website).
Although each boot camp may have slightly different procedures, they all have the same purpose – to put juveniles through a rigorous daily program starting at 5:30 or 6:00am and ending late at night, around 9 or 10pm. This program includes military drills, physical conditioning, and discipline. In addition to these activities, the boot camps also provide educational skills, counseling, substance abuse education, and address other health and mental health issues (Bourque b.c.j.o., 5). While not all programs offer all these components, boot camps have changed over time and continue to evolve. Initially, the focus was on strict military training, physical training, and hard labor. However, many boot camps now prioritize treatment and education (Zachariah 23).
The programs seek to help juvenile offenders reform their behavior through various techniques and procedures. The boot camps use a military approach to teach socially acceptable conduct and emphasize the consequences of deviance (Bourque b.c. 5). Military tactics and physical training are used to instill discipline in the young offenders, while educational instruction is provided in classrooms to address their lack of school attendance or frequent absences. These classrooms also serve as a platform for counseling, helping juveniles understand the reasons behind their deviant behavior and actively seeking change. The program also focuses on developing strong moral values as a deterrent against delinquent acts. Offenders are encouraged to consider the potential harm that their actions could cause themselves or their family members. Ultimately, the goal of boot camps is to empower individuals and make them realize that they do not have uncontrollable power over the world.
There are concerns regarding the lack of assistance and presence of abuse in juvenile offender boot camps. CNN reported a case in December 1999 where a 15-year-old boy was allegedly mistreated by a military guard at a Maryland boot camp, resulting in a broken wrist. This incident led to further reports of maltreatment at the same boot camp.
Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend initiated an investigation into the matter and stated that guilty guards will be terminated (CNN). Harsh policies towards juvenile offenders are currently being reevaluated by officials nationwide (Marks, 1).
An additional example highlighting claims of abuse in boot camps is the death of a 14-year-old girl from dehydration during a long-distance run at a South Dakota boot camp. Critics argue that these programs have always had potential for abuse and believe there should have been earlier reassessments.
Critics hope that the ongoing scrutiny will lead to a shift towards more therapeutic approaches focused on drug treatment, education, and vocational training (Marks, 1).
Boot camps have historically served as a method for treating juveniles, but there are numerous alternative options available. These alternatives include correctional institutions of various durations, such as long-term training schools or reform schools. The first training school was established in Massachusetts in 1846, and today, many states operate their own training schools. These institutions prioritize security, often featuring fences to maintain a high level of control. Training schools are considered long term, typically lasting around nine months, in order to “toughen up” youths and steer them away from delinquency, guiding them towards lawful behavior (Coffey, 196). The decision to send a juvenile to a training school is aimed at addressing and rectifying behavioral issues by implementing stricter measures.
Halfway houses are a type of correctional facility, typically a residential center where juveniles reside. The term “halfway house” signifies its position between a correctional institution and parole (coffey 201). This program typically lasts around six months and involves a combination of education, counseling, and Guided Group Interaction for both the juvenile and their parents.
Youth involved with the Juvenile Justice System require an individualized approach that considers their strengths and needs. All programs should involve the family in decision making. While boot camps are believed to serve various important goals for offenders and correctional agencies, the most crucial aim is rehabilitation. There is evident agreement on this goal among system-level officials, facility administrators, and drug treatment and education supervisors. Additionally, recent evidence suggests that boot camps can be a cost-effective alternative to incarceration for dealing with offenders, but they must be developed and managed carefully. The aftercare programs of the demonstration should be reconsidered and potentially restructured. The transition from boot camp to aftercare should be smoother and build upon the structure, discipline, and experiences of the residential stage.