Juvenile offenders require different types of interventions than adult offenders need. The advent of boot camp style disciplinary measures is aimed at reducing problem behavior while also reducing and/or eliminating the possibilities of recurring criminal activity. The boot camp model was introduced in the early 1900s with the goal of less recidivism as well as lower operating costs (Bottcher & Ezell, 2005, 309). There is a great deal of debate centered on the effectiveness of boot camps for youth.
There are many people who continue to support the methods used in juvenile boot camps despite several news stories pointing out the danger of such programs (Bottcher & Ezell, 2005, 309). There are many boot camps that currently accept juveniles but there are others that have closed due to extreme neglect and abuse (Bottcher & Ezell, 2005, 309; Parenti, 2001, 86). A literature review is offered that discusses the implications of juvenile boot camps as well as research indicating effectiveness.
The most popular boot camp models are based on military style training that includes strict discipline, physical training and manual labor (Griffiths, 2004, 120; Reid-MacNevin, 1997, 155). Boot camps almost always include educational and life skills as components of the program as well (Griffiths, 2004, 120). The goal of such programs is to rehabilitate juvenile offenders through intense military type training followed by close observation once a youth is reintroduced into the community (Griffiths, 2004, 120). This type of intervention may work well with some youth while but it can also fail depending on the type of youth being treated.
For example, research shows that youth in boot camp settings are more likely to have positive attitudes, display less hostile behavior and respond well to the highly structured environment (MacKenzie, Wilson, Armstrong & Gover, 2001, 299; Hunter, Burton, Marquart & Cuvelier, 1992, 283). This can be compared with youth in traditional facilities who often show higher levels of depression and anxiety than youth in boot camp type programs (MacKenzie, et al, 2001, 299). Further, juvenile offenders who are required to take part in boot camp programs are often less antisocial than youth in traditional facilities (MacKenzie, et al, 2001, 299).
This research provides small amounts of support for boot camp programs aimed at juveniles. However, this evidence does not hold true for youth with histories of abuse. These youth reported high levels of stress and exhibited less improvement overall and therefore fared better in traditional facilities (MacKenzie, et al, 2001, 299). Despite the fact that some research shows that boot camps are effective forms of discipline for juvenile offenders, the overwhelming opinion is that these types of programs are not effective enough to make them worth their while nor do they truly have the capacity to reduce recidivism (Reid-MacNevin, 1997, 155).
The initial reasons for developing boot style type programs included reducing overcrowded prisons, reducing correctional costs and reducing recidivism rates (Reid-MacNevin, 1997, 155; Hunter, et al, 1992, 283). However, it is also apparent that these programs are a strategy used by the government to avoid solving the juvenile crime problem (Reid-MacNevin, 1997, 155). The rate of abuse and neglect that occur in boot camps is startling evidence that proves their ineffectiveness. It is true that juvenile offenders may be “scared straight” while at the boot camp but the long term evidence suggests otherwise.
Watching peers being abused can cause the other participants to shape up while they are at boot camp but does not guarantee that that behavior will change outside of the boot camp setting. For example, Gina Score was sentenced to boot camp for stealing a beanie baby (Parenti, 2001, 85). On her second day of boot camp, Gina was subjected to a morning run that left her “lying a pool of her own urine, frothing at the mouth, gasping for breath, twitching and begging for ‘mommy’” (Parenti, 2001, 85). Additionally, Gina was denied water and was humiliated by boot camp staff that called her names (Parenti, 2001, 85).
Sadly, Gina died on the way to the hospital (Parenti, 2001, 85). This type of treatment is all too common in boot camps and is not an effective form of long term rehabilitation. Another example includes a young boy named Nicholas Contreraz who was sent to a boot camp in Arizona after joyriding in a stolen vehicle (Parenti, 2001, 86). Nick was subjected to verbal abuse, he was allowed to defecate and urinate in his sheets and then forced to carry them around in the same bucket he was forced to vomit into (Parenti, 2001, 87). Nick was also the victim of physical abuse that including pushing, shoving and manhandling (Parenti, 2001, 87).
When his body was autopsied it was discovered that he suffered from staph infections and had seventy-one cuts and bruises on his body (Parenti, 2001, 87). This type of treatment is not effective in rehabilitating juvenile offenders because it only teaches them to fear authority rather than respect it. Further, this type of treatment is highly ineffective because it is abuse rather than rehabilitation (Parenti, 2001, 87). The public has been shown to accept the use of boot camp interventions as long as they are viewed as tough punishment (Lutze & Brody, 1999, 242).
However, the public does not agree with the types of abuse and neglect that have been shown to occur in boot camps for youth. Many boot camps may actually violate the Eighth Amendment that discusses the use of cruel and unusual punishment (Lutze & Brody, 1999, 242). The juvenile correctional system as reacted to the public concern regarding mental and physical abuse in boot camps by researching the environments that juveniles are subject to in the name of rehabilitation. It has been found that verbal abuse such as name calling is common as is physical punishment such as being forced to exercise in inclement weather (Lutze & Brody, 1999, 242).
Further, the boot camp environment may actually encourage abusive treatment because of the deliberate indifference boot camp leaders are required to adopt in order to work with the youth (Lutze & Brody, 1999, 242). Again, the research indicates that physical and verbal abuse is similar to torture and does not motivate youth to rehabilitate. Recidivism rates have not been proven to decrease with the use of youth boot camps (MacKenzie, et al, 2001, 305; Kempinen & Kurlychek, 2003, 581).
Similarly, there is no difference in recidivism rates among youth discharged from boot camps as compared to youth discharged from traditional facilities (Kempinen & Kurlychek, 2003, 581). The primary reason that juvenile boot camps remain in operation is the strong opinion that errant youth can benefit from strict discipline and respect for authority (Zachariah, 1996, 1). Many people also hold the opinion that adhering to a set of rigorous standards outlined by the American Correctional Association (ACA) may improve the possibilities for success (Zachariah, 1996, 1).
However, many boot camp programs do not adhere to these standards and negative outcomes are the result (Zachariah, 1996, 1). Further, many boot camp programs have been deemed unsuccessful because they do not implement a set of written rules and regulations that guide the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders (Zachariah, 1996, 1). The lack of a universal model for boot camp implementation shows no difference in the long term recidivism rates among boot camp participants and juveniles sentenced to prison. In fact, two years out from release boot camp graduates had the same rates of recidivism as those released from prison (Zachariah, 1996, 1).
Many critics of juvenile boot camps cite the program design as the primary reason why they are unsuccessful at reducing recidivism rates among juvenile offenders. While boot camps are appealing to those running the criminal justice system because of their potential to reduce costs while also offering rehabilitation, the fact remains that very little research indicates the overall and long term success of such programs (Correria, 1997, 94). For example, many question how physical exercise can possible reduce rates of criminal activity among youth (Correria, 1997, 94).
Physical exercise is a strong component of boot camp programs. However, there is very little empirical evidence that shows that physical activity is an effective method for reducing criminal behavior and/or recidivism (Correria, 1997, 94). Engaging in the use of drugs and alcohol is one primary reason why juveniles are sent to boot camp programs. However, the research shows that, similar to recidivism rates, drug and alcohol abuse does not decrease with the boot camp style intervention (Lutze & Marenin, 1997, 114).
A study was conducted that compared a 180 day military style program that incorporated discipline, exercise and life skills programming with a group of prison inmates from Federal Prison Camp in Allenwood, Pennsylvania. The results show that with regards to illicit drug use there was no change among either population (Lutze & Marenin, 1997, 114). Further, heavy alcohol and/or marijuana users actually become more accepting of hard drug use (Lutze & Marenin, 1997, 114). This study indicates that boot camp style intervention programs are not effective at reducing and eliminating drug and alcohol abuse among juvenile offenders.
The purposes of military type boot camp programs are to maintain order, instill discipline and scare offenders straight (Morash & Rucker, 1990, 204). However, the effectiveness of measures used to achieve these goals is questioned. The physical and verbal tactics often used in boot camps are not appropriate for rehabilitating juvenile offenders and reducing recidivism rates (Morash & Rucker, 1990, 204). Instead, research shows that these measures can actually lead to increased levels of aggressiveness in both inmates and staff (Morash & Rucker, 1990, 204).
The degrading nature of boot camp programs has not been shown to affect rehabilitation or recidivism rates even with the inclusion of education and life skills training (Morash & Rucker, 1990, 204). Therefore, it is recommended that less degrading methods may be more beneficial for increasing rehabilitation rates while also decreasing recidivism rates (Morash & Rucker, 1990, 204). The overwhelming opinion in the literature is that boot camp programs that rely on physical and mental abuse are not effective.
However, there is some research that indicates that modified methods for rehabilitation may actually have the potential to be successful (MacKenzie, Gould, Riechers & Shaw, 1989, 1). Programs that include “anti-criminal modeling, problem solving, formal rules, use of community resources, relapse prevention and self-efficacy” are more successful at rehabilitating youth offenders while also reducing recidivism rates (MacKenzie, et al, 1989, 1). Positive role modeling from drill instructors has also been shown to have positive implications.
For example, drill instructors who participate in the physical requirements with offenders while also encouraging positive thinking is a method that may bring success (MacKenzie, et al, 1989, 1). Overall the literature discusses the ineffectiveness of current boot camp programs for juvenile offenders. The growing allegations of abuse destroy the ability for boot camps to move forward to discover ways to be effective (Parenti, 2001, 89). Instead, recommendations include programs where offenders are not yelled at but rather encouraged to make positive changes in their lives (Parenti, 2001, 90).
The literature reveals that mental and physical abuse do not work with youth offenders. The literature also points out that educational and life skills attainment are positive aspects of boot camps but they must be implemented by respectful staff that truly care about the youth and want to help rehabilitate them rather than humiliate and degrade them. Finally, the literature overwhelmingly agrees that youth offenders need intervention services but the disagreement centers on the proper methods and measures that will effectively and positively bring about rehabilitation while also reducing recidivism rates.
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