Is Boot Camp Effective On Troubled Teens?
Boot camp has become the latest craze in America's endless attempts to whip our nations youth into shape. But how successful is boot camp as compared to other forms of sentencing?
The fate of youth offenders is of primary concern, which has spawned a staggering national interest in shock incarceration or what are more commonly referred to as "boot camps". Boot camp facilities, which are designed to reform youth offenders through scare tactics and intense physical exertion, have experienced a dynamic growth spurt across America in recent years. In the beginning of 1984, there were only two states that supported boot camp facilities. By early 1992 the number had risen to 25 states, with the Federal Bureau of Prisons operating 41 different programs. While this surge in part is due to daytime talk shows such as Sally Jesse Raphael and Maury Povich glorifying the "instant" results of boot camp on a regular basis, the main reason for the explosion is the public's frustration with the lack of positive results in regards to traditional juvenile incarceration methods.
The popularity of boot camps can also be assigned to the outrageous costs of juvenile incarceration. Modern juvenile detention centers average an annual cost of $47,400 per offender. The annual cost to incarcerate an adult inmate in a Department of Corrections institution is approximately half that. Why is the cost of incarcerating a juvenile so much higher? One, because of the amount of extra personnel that is required to run a juvenile detention facility, and two because most juvenile facilities are located in close proximity to urban areas where food and supplies generally cost more than in rural areas.
Looking at those figures, any alternative would instigate some sort of interest. But the "alternative of choice" these days is boot camp. Though modeled in the image of the U.S. military, boot camps try to incorporate rehabilitative activities and educational efforts in regards to drug abuse, family issues and other concerns, into the program. While some place more efforts on the "psychological training" than others, physical training with a goal towards self-discipline is the primary focus.
There are basically five primary objectives that juvenile boot camps strive to achieve. The first is deterrence, which is an attempt to scare juveniles into never committing another crime for fear of the consequences. The second is incapacitation, or the sheer physical inability to commit crimes. Rehabilitation is the third goal of boot camps, which focuses on restoring an individual's chances at becoming a more respectable member of society. The fourth objective is punishment in the hopes that it will teach the juvenile offender "a valuable lesson" in action and consequence.
Generally, the criteria for juvenile boot camps are about the same from facility to facility. According to United States Code 42 Sec. 5667(f)-2, "a person shall be eligible for assignment to a boot camp if he or she is considered to be a juvenile under the laws of the state of jurisdiction; and has been adjudicated to be delinquent in the state of jurisdiction or, upon approval of the court, voluntarily agrees to the boot camp assignment without a delinquency adjudication”. However because of the pressure to reduce high numbers of positive results, some boot camps have established strict eligibility criteria in order to ensure a better likelihood of success. But just how successful are boot camp programs?
In 1990, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) funded an evaluation of boot camp program efficiency in eight States. This multi-site study's stated goal was to answer the question of whether boot camp programs successfully met their stated goals. The eight States that participated in the study were Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. Sites in those states were selected because they all incorporated all of the basic strategies of boot camp programs, yet each had distinctive qualities that allowed for a comparative analysis. The "basics" which all eight programs incorporated included strict rules, discipline, and a military boot-camp-like atmosphere, mandatory participation in military drills and physical training and separation of program participants from other prison inmates.
The findings were as follows: Inmates in both boot camps and juvenile delinquency(JD) facilities developed fewer antisocial attitudes during incarceration. Results were more varied in regards to program attitudes in that boot camp participants' attitudes became more positive as their programs progressed, while JD inmates' attitudes became less positive or stayed the same. All in all, the boot camp programs appeared to be a positive influence on its participants and their attitudes. On the other side of the coin, JD inmates did not consider their period of incarceration to be a positive experience. The consistency of the attitude change findings versus the vast differences in the program attitude results de-emphasizes the theory that the only reason boot camps work, if they work at all, is because of the additional counseling that some facilities provide.
In regards to how participants' actually implemented the changes they desired to make once they were released, these offenders' performances during the community supervision phase of their rehabilitation was examined in five states. Positive adjustment was measured in terms of success in pursuing employment, education, residential and financial stability, and treatment opportunities. During 1 year of supervision, probation or parole officers were asked to complete a 10-part evaluation every three months. While previous assumptions held that boot camps were more effective than traditional prisons at positive community adjustment, the results of this study proved otherwise. The results of this study divulged compelling evidence that boot camp programs had little, if any, effect on positive community adjustment. Boot camp graduates in general did not adjust any more successfully to community supervision than those who had failed to complete boot camp, those released from traditional incarceration environments and those on probation. In fact, any trace of positive community adjustment was far more related to demographic and offense-related characteristics, criminal history, and supervision intensity, than to whether or not the offenders had graduated from boot camp.
At this time it is still difficult to determine which components are critical to success and which are irrelevant. Unquestionably, more research is needed to indicate what can be accomplished with boot camp programs. As the amount of boot camp programs in the United States continues to grow, the issues demand further exploration. Despite the lack of hard evidence to their success, boot camp is a relatively young reform effort and still holds promise as we move through the next millennium.