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.
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.
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.
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.
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