Correctional Boot Camps

Correctional boot camps for juveniles, as well as for adults, focus on structure, discipline and physical and/or mental challenge. The experiences of the offenders in the programs are anticipated to change them in a positive way so that their future criminal activities will be reduced. The mechanism for this change is attributed to various factors such as self-esteem or increased bonds with staff and peers. Some also expect that these punitive programs will discourage others from committing crimes or that the individuals who spend time in the programs will be deterred from future criminal activities.

There are basically three types of boot camps: the military drilling style that focuses on strict discipline; the rehabilitative approach; and the educational/vocational model. In 1985 the first juvenile boot camp was established in Orleans Parish, Louisiana. In 1987, only four state correctional system boot camp programs existed. In 1992 there were three pilot juvenile boot camps started in Ohio, Colorado, and Alabama. The offenders sent to these locations were non-violent offenders less than 18 years of age, and were to complete a three-month residential program and six to nine month aftercare program.

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However, there were reports of a lack of consistency and coordination in the aftercare programs which lead to substandard results as opposed to those high intentions of lower recidivism. By 1993 there were forty-six reported in thirty states. This number grew increasingly to boast 75 facilities for juveniles by 1997, in 33 states. These figures represent only official state facilities, and do not include private camps and those established by local jurisdictions.

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If the figures included these facilities run by other jurisdictions and private persons the number would be significantly higher.

The idea of juvenile boot camps is much newer than adult faculties, although, in Texas alone their Juvenile Probation Department approved eighteen proposals to construct juvenile facilities across the state (Tyler, 2001). There are several elements of juvenile boot camps which include a regimented military-style program, strict discipline and rules, young, first-time nonviolent inmates, and programs that offer a shorter alternative to prison sentences. These elements can be altered in order to form different methods of treatment within the camps.

The goals vary within each program, but effectively they are all similar. They range to include incapacitation, deterrence, rehabilitation, reduction of prison costs and crowding, and punishment. Each program varies these goals in order to obtain the maximum positive potential results possible (Keenan & Barry, 1994). Rates of recidivism can be dependant on the types of offenders allowed to participate in the program, and therefore these participants are controlled for in order to make the programs look desirable to continue to obtain public support and funding from the state.

There are several people that play a role in deciding the participants of the program. These players include the sentencing judge, the correctional authority operating the boot camp, or a combination of the two. Another factor that plays a role in participant selection is the participant themselves. These young offenders are able to choose to participate in the boot camp or endure a longer period in incarceration. Surprisingly there are a majority of offenders that choose incarceration over the tough boot camps (Selcraig, 2000).

There are several issues that arise when studying boot camps. One needs to understand how to make boot camps effective in order to reduce the risk of reoffending after completion of the program. The camps used to be considered as scaring children senseless and it was thought that this idea "scared" the children not to re-offend. Now there has been more studies and researchers realize that this method needs to be mixed with treatment and aftercare in order to be an effective tool of punishment and treatment.

"Despite common wisdom holding that nothing works to alter a life of crime, programs can achieve rehabilitation by emphasizing problem-solving skills and anti criminal role-modelling. " (Castellano) Another alternative to community supervision are halfway houses or partial community confinement, designed to provide help to the offender in being reintegrated into the community. These alternatives are also thought to increase rehabilitation and incapacitation, but at the same time they will increase the costs of rehabilitating the offender.

This method combined with assistance in finding a job, counselling, and length of time monitored should prove effective in reducing re-offending. Monitoring comes in the form of electronic monitoring, and urinalysis. However, if these new methods prove to be more effective if combined as an aftercare program with the boot camp then it is a necessary tool that should be provided to the offender. There should be no cost too big in rehabilitating the offender because not only is it the offenders future at stake but possibly the publics' too because it is thought that they usually re-offend with more serious crimes.

The research on juvenile boot camps suggests that completion rates were high in the first year of the program, but research on aftercare programs suggests that nearly half of those who graduated to the aftercare phase dropped out, were arrested for a new offence, or were discharged for not complying with the program's rules. It was reported that in March 1992, every existing program was equipped with the necessary tools to provide education and/or drug-abuse treatment, although they were not originally equipped to do so.

However, there is a belief that the effectiveness of boot camps as a deterrent to recidivism is less effective than the public believes. Further research must focus not so much on why the rate of recidivism is so high, but rather on how the boot camp program itself deters those who do not recidivate. There are several reasons that researchers attempt to use in order to defend the use of boot camps. They argue that the high recidivism rates can be accountable by a number of reasons.

For example, they claim that the high rates are because some of the graduates were re-arrested for violent or aggressive crimes that they committed before boot camp, but the system was not aware of these crimes before assignment. They also claim that when the programs were started there was a huge backlog of high-risk youths in the system, so the boot camps received some of the worst offenders and can not be to blame for the high recidivism (Szalavitz, 2002). This point can be argued because isn't the program supposed to rehabilitate the offender?

Does it matter if the offender is considered high-risk? The program operators are claiming success rates in order to obtain funding and continued support, however, they are saying that certain offenders can not be rehabilitated. It is not fair for someone else to decide whether or not someone is able to be rehabilitated without giving them a chance to prove themselves. No two people are alike and different people respond differently to treatments. There are also other negative aspects to these alternative measures of incarceration.

There are several incidents of reported deaths caused by unnecessary roughness or physical exertion at these boot camps. Barry Krisberg, president of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland believes that boot camps are poorly regulated, and notes that many camps require counsellors who have gone through the program themselves, meaning many have criminal records, and are left in charge of the children. This does not seem like an appropriate method for dealing with the children. Leaving them with counsellors with criminal records seems like an accident waiting to happen.

Who is to say these counsellors are "treated" and reformed, especially after all the research indicating the possibilities of reoffending after the programs (Sharp, 1995). As well, there are reports of younger inmates being sexually assaulted, and one could assume others are physically assaulted by older inmates. According to an article published in 2000, there are at least half a dozen children that have died in boot camps, and other investigations have concluded that hundreds of others have been put through emotional and physical abuse (West, 2000).

The costs of boot camps run an average of ten times higher than the cost of a juvenile on probation, according to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. The average cost of each youth enrolled in a boot camps program runs about $93/day. These figures range from $65/day at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Mobile Alabama, to $120/day at the Second Chance in Connell, Washington. This works out to be approximately $33,480 per year per youth.

Also in comparison, Kansas, which does not currently have boot camps, spends $47,400 per year per youth housing an offender in an institution (Tyler, 2001). There is also research suggesting the validity of the boot camps and their success in rehabilitating young offenders. The researchers claim that if there was an increase in the number of paid staff it would increase the number, quality, and intensity of training and rehabilitative programs within the camp. However, a downfall to this is the increase in funding that would be necessary to keep the programs up and running.

Another idea that has been suggested is the multi-use of locations- using an existing prison site and incorporating the boot camps into the same location. They believe this would also decrease recidivism because it would serve as a deterrent when the offender saw the option of jail as another form of punishment and realized how unappealing it is. Colorado, North Dakota and Arizona have ended their boot camp programs, Georgia is phasing them out, and Florida and California are cutting back.

This all due to the fact that there continues to be a lot of controversy over the effectiveness of the boot camps and whether or not they are effective in reducing recidivism and helping the offender to become a responsible contributing member of society. Along similar lines of boot camps, are another fairly new idea of programs. These programs are more interested in treatment and provide more education, as opposed to using the military-style punishment. One such programs sends recruits to spend a weekend with the U.

S Marine Corps, learning obedience to orders and discipline. Researchers criticize this method of program because they believe that since their disobedient behaviour took time to develop, it will take more than a weekend to cure their negative behaviour (Tyler, 2001). Upon reading most of the information it seems as though a general question seems to arise- if it is the aftercare that ultimately determines whether the offender is likely to re-offend, is the boot camp necessary or can we skip right to the aftercare portion?

This is an interesting question because it questions the authority of the state to spend the money on the boots camps if they cannot even be linked to reduced recidivism. Further research needs to be done into the effectiveness of these camps because it needs to be discovered whether or not they can reduce recidivism. If in fact the camps are not responsible for the rehabilitation or scared straight technique, but it is due for example, to the aftercare, then we need to focus more attention on this.

It is very important to obtain the most effective results possible so that we can help these troubled youths to lead a more productive and fulfilling life. As it stands now, the aftercare focuses on reintegration into the community, using a counsellor. This counsellor includes the family and community when assessing their method of care. After a program is made to suit the individual, there is strict supervision, used in conjunction with rewards and sanctions available to the successful candidate (Begin, 1996). There is no data on the effectiveness of the facility.

All in all, the use of juvenile boot camps are a highly criticized and often highly respected means of treating and punishing the young offender. Their use has been criticized often for not reducing recidivism rates and their abuse of participants. However, any reduction in recidivism should be looked at as a positive because it is one less youth who is going to endure a life of crime, and one less youth who is committing a crime and harming the general public. Because a lot of the facilities are responsible for reducing recidivism, boot camps are still in use today.

Overall, although there is negative data related to the use of boot camps, there is also a lot of rewarding experiences and positive outcomes. These experiences allow for the continuation of the programs and continued improvements in the aftercare are being made to better the services of the boot camps to improve the rehabilitation process of the young offender.


  1. Begin, Patricia. (1996). Boot Camps: Issues for Consideration. Ontario: Library of Parliament- Research Branch.
  2. Keenan, John; Barry, R. (1994, March). Measuring the Military Atmosphere of Boot Camps. Federal Probation, 58, (1), 67-71.
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Correctional Boot Camps. (2017, Apr 02). Retrieved from

Correctional Boot Camps
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