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Juvenile Justice Reform Initiatives in the States

Juvenile Boot Camps

Boot camps for juveniles have evolved from their counterparts in the adult criminal justice system.

Currently, juvenile boot camps are operating in 10 States -- Alabama, California, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New York, and Ohio.140 Although boot camps have been popular in recent years and have maintained their appeal with policymakers, corrections officials, and the public in general, results from recent evaluations suggest that the efficacy of these programs is questionable at best.

The first adult boot camp program started in Georgia in 1983. Today, more than 70 boot camp programs are operating in more than 30 States. Programmatic features of boot camps include rigorous physical conditioning; discipline; activities to bolster self-esteem, confidence, and leadership; and an emphasis on militarylike rules. Also included in most programs is a combination of physical labor, drug and psychological treatment, and education initiatives. Participants have typically been convicted of nonviolent crimes and are sentenced to boot camp programs for between 90 and 180 days. Following this stay, the offender is returned to the community, usually with some kind of intensive supervision and aftercare.141

The most comprehensive evaluation of boot camps done to date was undertaken by Doris Layton-MacKenzie and her colleagues at the University of Maryland, with funding from NIJ. The study compared eight boot camp programs -- those in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas -- and examined the extent to which they met their goals of reducing prison crowding and changing the behavior of offenders.

The results of the extensive survey indicate that boot camps must have a myriad of factors in place before they can elicit cost savings or impact recidivism. According to an article by Layton-MacKenzie summarizing the survey, "The principal findings are that most [boot camp] programs produce positive attitudinal changes in participants, have few if any effects on subsequent criminality, and are likely to reduce prison crowding only if program admissions are tightly controlled to assure that spaces are allotted to prison-bound offenders We do not know yet how to organize boot camps with reasonable confidence that they will achieve their intended results."142

Evaluation of Juvenile Boot Camps

The factors behind the creation of juvenile boot camps mirror those that led to their creation in the adult criminal justice system: an increasing incidence of youth crime, overburdened juvenile courts, and the growing costs of youth detention. According to NIJ, juveniles in custody for delinquent offenses increased 35 percent from 1978 to 1989, a period when the youth population of the United States declined by 11 percent. As a result, "satisfactory alternatives to long-term institutionalization are as welcome in the juvenile system as they are in the adult system."143

The first juvenile boot camp was developed in Orleans Parish, LA, in 1985. Since then, 10 States have begun operating juvenile boot camps, which vary in size, eligibility requirements, and programming. Due to the relative newness of these programs, a limited body of research is available on their makeup and efficacy. The American Institutes for Research (AIR), the Institute for Criminological Research (ICR) at Rutgers University, and Caliber Associates, with support from NIJ and OJJDP, have researched existing juvenile boot camp programs and have sponsored and evaluated OJJDP-funded pilot juvenile boot camp programs in three U.S. cities.

The results of telephone and mail surveys conducted by ICR, supplemented by written reports on existing programs, indicate that juvenile boot camps deem as eligible for participation "mid-range" offenders, that is, those who have been involved with the juvenile justice system before and not performed well with lesser sanctions, like probation, but who are not yet established criminals. Juvenile boot camp programs typically exclude some types of offenders, but only a very few limit eligibility to those who are nonviolent or first-time offenders.144 Most have determined that youth in their mid- to late-teens are the appropriate age group for this type of sanction.

Although the goals of reducing recidivist behavior and rehabilitating youth are common to both juvenile and adult programs, boot camps for juveniles have retained more of the rehabilitative focus that remains an underpinning in the juvenile justice system. "In keeping with the juvenile justice system's historical focus on rehabilitation, the rationale for boot camps typically incorporates explicit assumptions about the needs and deficits of delinquent youth, and the remedial, counseling, and aftercare programs necessary to address those needs," according to the recent ICR/NIJ report.145 The ICR/NIJ survey results support this statement and report that these camps typically allocate more than half a day on education and counseling activities, spending a minimum of 3 hours on academic education. Further, substance abuse treatment, rehabilitative counseling, and intensive community supervision upon release are common features of most boot camp programs.146

Much of what is known about the efficacy of juvenile boot camps has come about as a result of the research sponsored by OJJDP and NIJ, in collaboration with AIR and ICR, and by an evaluation conducted for OJJDP by Caliber Associates. In fall 1990, OJJDP initiated a juvenile boot camp demonstration study to examine the feasibility and appropriateness of developing a boot camp model for youth offenders. In 1991, three sites received awards to establish and implement juvenile boot camps: Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Cleveland, OH, in association with the North American Family Institute; Colorado Division of Youth Services, Denver, CO, in association with New Pride, Inc.; and Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Mobile, Mobile, AL, in association with the Strickland Youth Center of the Mobile County Juvenile Court and the University of South Alabama. NIJ, working with AIR and ICR, sponsored the demonstration programs' process evaluation, while an impact evaluation was conducted by Caliber Associates.

The three boot camps involved in the study adopted a structured selection process to recruit nonviolent, nonhabitual offenders under the age of 18 for the pilots. A 90-day residential boot camp phase was established with an aftercare component of 6 to 9 months. Youth were exposed to militarylike routine, discipline, and physical conditioning and to rehabilitative programming, such as academic instruction, counseling, and substance abuse education. All sites encouraged participants to pursue academic and vocational training or employment during the period of intensive, yet progressively diminishing, supervision.147

The evaluation found that all three programs reported high attrition rates for noncompliance, absenteeism, and new arrests. Evaluators found that although the youth assigned to boot camps completed the residential program at high rates (96 percent in Cleveland, 87 percent in Mobile, and 76 percent in Denver), many failed to complete the aftercare portion of the program. Evaluators concluded that:

What appeared to be a promising prognosis at the conclusion of the boot camp disintegrated during aftercare. All three programs were plagued by high attrition rates for noncompliance, absenteeism, and new arrests during the aftercare period. No other indicators of progress were observed during this phase that would help pinpoint where the problems lay. In all fairness to the programs, aftercare was particularly affected by unexpected cuts in Federal support, especially in Denver and Mobile, where budget reductions resulted in programs far less comprehensive than originally planned . . . at this juncture, it does not appear that the demonstration programs solved the problem that typically plagues residential correctional programs: inmates who appear to thrive in the institutional environment but falter when they return home.148

The initial evaluation results were not conclusive with respect to program costs or impact. They drew no conclusions about the long-term impact of the programs because the study did not track postprogram recidivism and only recorded when a participant's arrest prompted his termination in the program. Of youth entering the boot camps, nearly 33 percent in Cleveland, 25 percent in Denver, and 11.5 percent in Mobile were dropped from the program for being rearrested. "Without knowing what the arrest rates would have been for a control group of comparable youths [youths convicted of similar crimes, with similar backgrounds who were not committed to a boot camp program], it is difficult to interpret what these attrition rates mean," the report said. "Neither can the program's impact on correctional crowding or cost savings be assessed without more information about recidivism and the costs of alternative placements."149

Although the outcomes in the three demonstration sites were not yet known, the process evaluators concluded that boot camps can be implemented in the juvenile justice system. They developed several recommendations concerning the implementation of juvenile boot camp programs, including:

bullet Boot camp programs should delineate specifically the programmatic features that they expect will elicit the desired changes in participant behavior.
bullet Boot camp programs should carefully define and select target populations in light of their goals for rehabilitation, recidivism, cost containment, and punishment.
bullet Aftercare, as the period during which most program attrition occurred, should be focused on, improved, and possibly restructured.
bullet When multiple agencies are involved with monitoring participants, the responsibilities of each agency should be spelled out in detail.
bullet Programs should adopt consistent and continuous staff training.
bullet Boot camps for juveniles warrant additional study and research.150

In 1993, OJJDP tasked Caliber Associates to conduct an impact evaluation of these same sites utilizing data from the first 17 months of boot camp operations collected by the AIR/ICR team. The study concluded that despite debilitating operational problems, significant numbers of experimental youth were able to demonstrate important positive outcomes. Substantial improvements in academic skills were noted in Mobile and Cleveland, the two sites where educational gains were measured. Where employment records were available, a significant number of participants found jobs while in aftercare.

Despite these positive outcomes, in 2 1/2 years of operations, none of the three boot camps appeared to have reduced recidivism. No statistical significance between boot camp youth and control youth was found in Denver and Mobile. In Cleveland, the boot camp youth evidenced a higher recidivism rate than juvenile offenders in traditional juvenile correctional facilities. The evaluators pointed out that more intensive monitoring of boot camp participants during aftercare may have increased their risk of detection, and thus recidivism, while the control youth had considerably fewer contacts with authorities following release.

Regarding cost, the findings concluded that when boot camps are used as an alternative to confinement, savings are achieved. If boot camps are used as an alternative to probation, savings are not realized. Similar to the AIR/ICR findings, the Caliber findings remain preliminary because the experiment had not run its full course when these interim reports were published. OJJDP has noted that "none of the sites fully implemented OJJDP's model juvenile boot camp guidelines, and that some critical aftercare support services were not provided."151

Recent State Action

Recent State action concerning boot camps for juveniles has been significant. Policymakers in Michigan enacted a law in the 1996 legislative session to create a boot camp for juveniles with the Family Independence Agency. The Juvenile Boot Camp Act provides for a 90- to 180-day term of militaristic training, academic curriculums, and counseling, followed by a 4- to 6-month period of aftercare.152 Broad-based juvenile justice reform in Texas in 1995, which included many tough sanctions for violent juvenile offenders, allows the Texas Youth Commission to establish juvenile boot camps with physical, academic, and moral training and aftercare programs to "aid in successful community reintegration."153

In New Mexico, the Governor signed into law in 1995 an initiative that will provide for work camps with a concentration on occupational skills in forestry, conservation, or ranching for serious, violent offenders and plans for a 50-bed boot camp for less dangerous delinquents.154 The juvenile justice reform initiative enacted in Oregon requires the establishment of eight regional youth accountability camps, with a focus on work and physical training, a cognitive restructuring component, and a drug and alcohol treatment phase. To qualify for the program, participants must be offenders who otherwise would have been sent to the State's training school, but are considered acceptable security risks for work and training in such camps.155

Some States with existing juvenile boot camp provisions expanded those services in recent legislative sessions. California changed its boot camp programs in 1995 by amending the Community Based Punishment Act of 1994 to authorize the establishment and funding of educational and vocational services for juvenile offenders. The legislation gave county-level administrators and probation officers more latitude in the maintenance of education programs in existing boot camps. Appropriations for these programs are derived from Federal funds for juvenile crime prevention purposes and distributed through the State's Department of Youth Authority.156 In addition, the legislation enabled the county board of supervisors to establish residential and nonresidential boot camp programs at county expense.157

The Louisiana legislature expanded the State's existing boot camp program to 400 beds and created a short- and long-term program based on the prior history of the youth offender and the seriousness of his or her offense. This initiative followed the establishment of a juvenile boot camp clearinghouse in the State under the jurisdiction of the Louisiana Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Criminal Justice. The charge of the clearinghouse is to provide guidelines for local jurisdictions in the implementation of juvenile boot camp programs.158

While initiatives to expand boot camp programs for youth were undertaken in several States, a program in Maryland was terminated after less than 2 years. Established in August 1994, the Maryland juvenile boot camp served 157 youth before being closed in March 1996. The program combined military-style discipline with academic instruction. Upon release, the juveniles were placed under intensive mentoring and provided with counseling. Only nonviolent juveniles who had committed repeat offenses were eligible for the boot camp.

The program was terminated based on its inconclusive impact on juvenile recidivism. Although the program was relatively new and there were few ways to measure the effect of the boot camps on youth behavior, the acting administrator of the program estimated that 1 in 10 graduates of the boot camp had already returned to the juvenile justice system by the time the boot camp closed in March 1996. Maryland State officials report that a Baltimore County facility that deals with hardcore delinquents will benefit from funding made available by the boot camp closing and that the adult boot camp program, the Herman L. Toulson Boot Camp, will remain operational.159


140. George M. Camp et al., 1995 Corrections Yearbook: Juvenile Corrections 47 (1995).

141. Arizona, Maryland Close Boot Camps, Citing Questionable Impact, Costs, Justice Bulletin (National Criminal Justice Ass'n, Washington, D.C.), Apr. 1996, at 1, 18.

142. Doris Layton-MacKenzie, Boot Camps: A National Assessment, 5 Overcrowded Times 1, 14­15 (Aug. 1994).

143. Bourque et al., supra note 129, at 2.

144. Cronin, supra note 126, at 36.

145. Id. at 36.

146. Id. at 38.

147. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Dep't of Justice, fact sheet no. 36 Juvenile Boot Camps: Lesson Learned (June 1996) [hereinafter Boot Camp Fact Sheet].

148. Bourque et al., supra note 129, at 111.

149. Id. at 111.

150. Id. at 113­114.

151. Boot Camp Fact Sheet, supra note 147.

152. Mich. Comp. Laws. § 400.1301 (Supp. 1996).

153. Tex. Hum. Res. Code Ann. § 61.101 (West Supp. 1996).

154. Patricia Torbet et al., National Center for Juvenile Justice, State Responses to Violent Juvenile Crime 49 (July 1996).

155. Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 420.120­420.235 (Supp. 1996).

156. Cal. Educ. Code § 47700 (West Supp. 1997).

157. Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 940 (West Supp. 1996).

158. La. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 15:1202 (West Supp. 1996).

159. Arizona, supra note 141.


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