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Boot Camps and Future Offending Essay

:  The creation and implementation of programs such as correctional boot camps for juvenile offenders are fundamentally a response to other programs that persistently fail to prevent future offending; indeed, and examination of the relevant academic literature clearly demonstrates that “A large body of research, including random assignment studies, consistently shows the failure of community restraint programs to lower recidivism” (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, and Mackenzie 345).

The question therefore becomes whether correctional boot camps function as a viable alternative in terms of preventing future offending by juveniles. The issue is especially relevant because demographic changes show an increase in the population of children under the age of ten as well as increases in certain types of offending. The fear is that a failure to identify successful programs to curtail future offending by juveniles will result in an explosion in juvenile offending and recidivism in the near future.

Sadly, the preponderance of the empirical evidence suggests that correctional boot camps for juveniles are not a viable institutional solution for preventing future offending (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, and Mackenzie 346). One scholar even goes so far as to argue that “programs that are excessively harsh or punitive, like boot camps, either have no effects or iatrogenic effects; this finding echoes Fagan’s conclusion about sanctioning juveniles as adults” (Steinberg 9).

The consequence has been a movement away from the use of correctional boot camps and a state-based movement toward legislation designed to simply transfer difficult juveniles to adult criminal jurisdiction through various types of transfer proceedings. These condemnations of correctional boot camps, however, fail to properly acknowledge the fact that there does exist some empirical research suggesting that some boot camps for juveniles have and may continue to diminish future offending (Dale 91).

In support of this thesis, that correctional boot camps for juveniles have generally failed to prevent or minimize future offending, it is helpful to examine the structural features of these boot camps, the benefits and drawbacks, and the best methods for implementation. As an initial matter, these correctional boot camps are designed to instill a sense of personal responsibility and to simultaneously instill a sense of belonging to a larger group mentality. The programs are derived and to some extant modeled on the boot camp philosophies and programs conducted by the United States Marines.

Structurally, they “focus on structure, discipline and physical and/or mental challenge” (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, and Mackenzie 345). The boot camps are therefore of a slightly more holistic and interdisciplinary nature than other correctional programs such as diversion, punishment, and transfers to adult criminal jurisdiction. One of the underlying premises is that by addressing the entire person, both the juvenile’s physical and mental well-being, that these juvenile offenders will emerge from the boot camps more confident and better prepared to function as responsible members of society.

There is also a punishment feature given the fact that these camps are rather strenuous and there is a hope that this will function as an incentive against future offending. Interesting, not all boot camps are the same. Some focus on physical exertion and absolute subordination and discipline whereas others concentrate on therapeutic approaches to treating and condition the juveniles. The research suggests that the results vary depending on the type of boot camp employed.

More specifically, “physical activities may have health benefits but they may not address the criminogenic needs of these offenders” (Sherman, Farrington, Welsh, and Mackenzie 348), but there is some evidence suggesting that therapeutic boot camps may yield better results although more research need to be done in this area. A review of the research therefore suggests that correctional boot camps focusing too much on physical activities are unlikely to significantly reduce future offending by juveniles.

Therapeutically-oriented boot camps may provide better results but more research needs to be carried out. The main benefit associated with correctional boot camps is the fact that it functions as a correctional alternative to transfers to adult criminal jurisdiction. The failure to devise programs capable of reducing future offending by juveniles has provided ammunition for citizens and policy makers who prefer to simply treat juveniles as adults and to thereby effectively give up on rehabilitation theories as they pertain to increasing numbers of juveniles.

There is therefore a very real incentive to design a more effective type of correctional boot camp in order to avoid the state-based legislative trend to lock up juveniles in adult facilities before tossing away the figurative key. On the other hand, it can also be argued that many correctional boot camps may be failing because they too closely mirror the Marine boot camps from which they are derived without properly incorporating therapeutic models and individual counseling to deal with specific problems or risk factors contributing to juvenile offending.

Juveniles are not soldiers, they are not Marines, and this separation needs to be made both theoretically and in terms of implementation. These boot camps might also be designed and implemented in a more selective fashion; more specifically, in terms of determining when and which juveniles are suitable candidates for correctional boot camps, it is advisable to adapt the boot camp structure to particular types of juvenile offenders rather than attempting to compel juveniles with diverse backgrounds and personalities to adapt to the boot camps.

In conclusion, the majority of the available evidence presents a less than flattering commentary regarding the effectiveness of correctional boot camps in terms of future offending. Significantly, however, studies in states such as Florida have demonstrated that some types of boot camps have yielded positive results. Rather than praising or condemning boot camps in general, researchers should focus on identifying the valuable features of boot camps in order to design and match future boot camps to the specific needs of different types of juvenile offenders.

Works Cited Dale, Nancy. “Boot Camp: the Last Stop for Juvenile Offenders. ” Law & Order Dec. 2000: 91+. Questia. Web. 9 May 2010. Sherman, Lawrence W. , David P. Farrington, Brandon C. Welsh, and Doris Layton Mackenzie, eds. Evidence-Based Crime Prevention. London: Routledge, 2002. Questia. Web. 9 May 2010. Steinberg, Laurence. “Introducing the Issue. ” The Future of Children 18. 2 (2008): 3+. Questia. Web. 9 May 2010.


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