Boot camps have been part of the correctional and penal system of the United States since the early 1980s. Modeled after military recruit training camps, the programs are based on shock incarceration grounded on military techniques.
In most US states participation in boot camp programs is offered to young first-time offenders in place of a prison term or probation, in some states a youth can also be sentenced to participate in such a program. The time served can range from 90 to 180 days, which can make up for prison sentences of up to 10 years. How serving time and boot camp time is equated differs among facilities and states. Offenders who do not finish a program must serve the original prison sentence.
Participants typically engage in military-style exercises and marching. Facilities may be residential or "day camps" and may serve a wide range of ages. It is common to find educational and counseling components among such programs.
Boot camps can be governmental as well as private institutions. In 1995 the US federal government and about two-thirds of the 50 states were operating boot camp programs.
Presently, there are no statistics as to how many boot camps there are in the US today; guesses range from 50 to 100.
In the last few years boot camps have been including a number of rehabilitation-type programs such as education, counseling, vocational training or special programs to address the needs of drug offenders.
More and more and with the same methods, boot camps also offer programs as "quick-fix solutions" for kids of parents who hope to regain lost control of their teens or who desire behavior modification. In advertisements they claim to "scare kids straight", "help defiant adolescents improve their behavior" and guarantee "97% parent satisfaction". In these cases it is not a judge but the parents who decide the fate of a teen and they cover the quite considerable costs. The consent of the teen is not required.
The first boot camps appeared in the US states of Georgia
in 1983. The intention was to maximise deterrence
, to reduce prison crowding, to reduce the rising costs of the penal and correctional system and to reduce recidivism
. Boot camps are intended to be less restrictive than prison but harsher than probation
Boot camps were banned in Florida on June 1, 2006 through legislation signed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush after 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died while in a boot camp. The cause of death has been the subject of much speculation, and it has been alleged that Anderson was killed by drill instructors who forced him to continue physical exercise after he had collapsed. Anderson attended Bay County Boot Camp in Panama City, Florida.
Other countries have been closely watching the boot camp system in the US but so far have been slow to copy it, if at all. In Canada and Europe many see US society as highly militarised for which the military style boot camps are just another example. Europeans tend to be quite wary of military influence in civil society. As well, the tactics employed in most boot camps are considered to infringe on the human rights
of the affected and to be rather totalitarian
. Therefore in Canada participation in boot camp programs are voluntary, so as to avoid any challenges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms
under which treatment at boot camps could be seen as an infringement on a youth's right to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment and to ensure security of person.
Canada started a boot camp project for non-violent juveniles with subtle but distinct differences from the American models. The first one was opened in 1997 in Ontario. Unlike in the US system it is not possible to trade or shorten a jail sentence with a significantly shorter boot camp program.
Canadian boot camps do not have the time frame of 90 to 180 days and they are restricted to juveniles up to the age of 17 and not yet open for female offenders. The judges do not directly possess the authority to send a youth to a boot camp. They may impose a sentence of secure or open custody. The latter is defined as, "a community residential center, group home, child care institution or forest or wilderness camp . . .". Once an open custody sentence is granted, a correctional official decides whether a sentence is served in a boot camp program. But the ultimate decision rests with the young person and the decision is made purely on the merits of the program because the time served remains the same.
The Canadian system is too young to show any comparable results but research has been done among US boot camps with different emphases, e. g. more on drug treatment or education than solely on military drill. According to the findings treatment has a slightly positive impact on the reduction of recidivism over strict discipline.
However, altogether there are no research findings in favor of boot camps in light of any of the initial intentions. Recidivism rates in the US among former prison inmates and boot camp participants are roughly the same. Yet, the effects of boot camps are controversially disputed, some surveys claiming lower re-offence rates, others showing no change as compared to persons serving normal time. Surveys also show different results concerning the reduction of costs. Critics add, that the emphasis on authority can only result in frustration, resentment, anger, short temper, a low self-esteem and aggression rather than respect. According to a report in the New York Times there have been 30 known deaths of youths in US boot camps since 1980.
Boot camps remove children "from environments filled with negative influences and triggering events that produce self-defeating, reckless or self-destructive behavior" . Other types of programs (see outdoor education
, adventure therapy
, and wilderness therapy
) use this method while avoiding all or some of the controversial methods of boot camps, and they claim lower recidivism.
- Ann Coppola, Shock It To Me: Prison Boot Camps, Corrections Connection Network News
- Begin, P. Boot Camps: Issues for Consideration. (Ottawa: Library of Parliament, September 1996).
- "BHIP: Studies Find Boot Camps Have High Rearrest Rates.", February 18, 1998
- Cowles et al. "Boot Camp" Drug Treatment and Aftercare Intervention: An Evaluation Review. (Washington: National Institute of Justice, July 1995).
- Jones, P. Young Offenders and the Law. (North York: Captus Press, 1994).
- Mackenzie et al. "Boot Camp Prisons and Recidivism in Eight States." Canadian Journal of Criminology (1995), Vol. 3, No. 3: 327-355.
- McNaught, A. Boot Camps. (Toronto: Legislative Research Service, December 1995).
- Boot Camps: Issues for Canada, JOHN HOWARD SOCIETY OF ALBERTA 1998
- Morton Rhue(Todd Strasser): "Boot Camp"