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Discuss how effective boot camps are for reducing future criminal behavior Essay

Discuss how effective boot camps are for reducing future criminal behavior. One type of intervention used to treat conduct disorder is the boot camp. The basic idea is that disruptive behaviors can be corrected by strict behavioral regulation and an emphasis on skills training (Weis & Toolis 2009). The intention of boot camps is to shock juveniles into complying and exhibiting more pro-social behaviors. Unfortunately, this method of rehabilitation is not based on empirical evidence nor supported by research (Garascia, 2005).

Boot camps are controversial because they are not proven to be effective or appropriate for treating juvenile delinquents (Garascia, 2005). The general structure of boot camps is modeled after military basic training with strict scheduling, command from drill instructors, group discipline, little free time or privileges, and strenuous physical activity. Boot camps may be supplemented with academic and skills training programs (Garascia, 2005). Boot camps emerged in the early 1990s as an extension of adult correctional boot camps. While not as widespread now, as many as 50 juvenile boot camps operate in the United States (Weis & Toolis, 2009).

Among the goals espoused for using boot camps as treatment are: reduce recidivism, reduce overcrowding, reduce costs, and rehabilitate youth (Weis & Toolis, 2009). Generally, recidivism rates from boot camp graduates are found to be similar to those who complete traditional residential correctional interventions. Boot camp programs may reduce overcrowding in detention centers and prisons since stays are shorter than traditional residential programs, allowing a quicker release into the community. While boot camps are less expensive than prisons or juvenile detention centers, they are more expensive than probation.

If the offending juvenile is sentenced to boot camp instead of probation, then it is not cost effective. Weis, Crockett, and Vieth (2004) found that the average cost for boot camps per adolescent range from $6,241 to $14,021 depending on location, duration, and aftercare programs. In 1991, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) granted three organizations funds to create boot camps that had a military structure, used physical discipline, and provided aftercare services (Weis & Toolis, 2009).

Boot camps evolved in three phases. The first generation of boot camps emphasized the military structure, extreme physical conditioning, and strict rules on the basis that shock and intimidation can correct disruptive behaviors. Juveniles were held accountable for their crimes in hopes that it would deter them from future crime (Weis & Toolis, 2009). The second generation of boot camps focused on a balance between military structure and therapeutic programming such as schooling, job training, counseling, and daily living skills in order to increase self-control (Weis & Toolis, 2009).

The third generation of boot camps placed less emphasis on military structure, following the belief that change occurs when the environment is one of respect and trust. Modeling and positive reinforcement were used as well as therapeutic and educational programming and intense aftercare programs (Weis & Toolis, 2009). Lastly, forced “treatment” has not worked. Even though youth given the diagnosis of conduct disorder are often criminalized, programs focusing on military-based, highly restrictive, coercive environments have failed to produce results to warrant their continued use. Rather than relying on these coercive tactics to “correct” these troubling behaviors, we must step back and reconsider the meaning and purpose of these behaviors- with close attention to the ecologies from which these youth emerge.

If we focus equal resources at repairing (or preventing) the troubled worlds of these youth, compared to our investment in coercive, symptom-based strategies, we may likely achieve far greater results.


Garascia, J. A. (2005). The price we are willing to pay for punitive justice in the juvenile detention system: Mentally ill delinquents and their disproportionate share of the burden. Indiana Law Journal, 80, 489-515.

Weis, R., Crockett, T. E., & Vieth, S. (2004). Using MMPI-A profiles to predict success in a military-style residential treatment program for adolescents with academic and conduct problems. Psychology in the Schools, 41(5), 563574.

Weis, R., & Toolis, E. E. (2009). Evaluation of a voluntary military-style residential treatment program for youths with conduct problems: 6- and 36-month outcomes. Psychological Services, 6(2), 139-153.

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