History of the Boot Camp
In the military, boot camp represents an abrupt, often shocking transition to a new way of life. Discipline is strict and there is an emphasis on hard work, physical training, and unquestioning obedience to authority. The new private is told when to sleep, when to get up and when to eat. He marches with his platoon everywhere he goes such as to meals and to training. Orders must be obeyed instantly and personal liberty is almost nonexistent. By the end of boot camp the new private has become a different person. Such was the hope for boot camp, or shock incarceration, programs in American prisons: that young, nonviolent offenders could be diverted from a life outside the law using the same tactics successfully employed by the military to turn civilians into soldiers. This reliance on a military atmosphere still provokes controversy over boot camp programs, with proponents arguing that the rigid discipline promotes positive behavior. (Clear, 1997; Cowels, 1995)
Since their beginning in 1983 in Georgia, boot camps have spread to half the States and
have gained wide popular appeal for their “get tough” policies. Proponents of boot camps cite their potential for rehabilitating offenders and curbing future criminal behavior. Opponents caution that more information is needed on a variety of issues including costs and the potential for abuse of power. Research into boot camps began with a 1988 study of Louisiana’s boot camp program and continued with a multi-site evaluation in 1989 (Cowels, 1995). Fueled primarily by growth in the number of offenders incarcerated during the past decade and changing views of the role of punishment and treatment in the correctional system. Shock incarceration programs, or “boot camps” as they have been more recently called, have emerged as an increasingly popular alternative sanction for nonviolent crimes.
Boot camp programs operate under a military-like routine wherein young offenders convicted of less serious, nonviolent crimes are confined for a short period of time, typically from 3 to 6 months (Parent, 1989). They are given close supervision while being exposed to a demanding regimen of strict discipline, physical training, drill, inspections, and physical labor. All the programs also incorporate some degree of military structure and discipline. They follow new strict rules that they are not use to which include the following: (1) Basic training program inmates shall not enter the rooms of other inmates. (2) Upon rising, inmates will make their beds in the military manner prescribed by staff and the beds will remain in this condition unless occupied. (3) No food, beverages, or other items from the dining hall will be permitted in the dormitories. (4) No talking is permitted during quiet time, study time or after lights out. (5) Inmates shall not place any pictures, photographs, calendars, posters, or writings of any type on doors, walls, lockers, or on any other state equipment or property. (6) Rooms and lockers shall be kept neat and orderly in the manner prescribed by basic training program staff. (7) Cleanliness of common areas such as day rooms, hallways, and showers shall be the responsibility of all inmates assigned to that housing wing of the dormitory. (8) When leaving the dormitory for any reason, inmates will be in the uniform of the day as specified by the program director. (9) Inmates shall contact the dormitory officer or supervisor about any personal problems, which might arise. If the problem cannot be resolved at this level, the inmate may submit his concerns in writing to the officer in charge or program director (America Online, 1994; Cowels, 1995). Appearance and Hygiene: (1) Hair. Basic training program inmates will receive a military style haircut upon arrival in the program. Inmates will subsequently receive haircuts every two weeks for the duration of the program. (2) Shaving. Basic training program inmates shall be clean shaven. Inmates shall shave every day unless it is determined by the institutional physician that shaving would be detrimental to the inmate’s health. (3) Showers. Basic training program inmates shall shower daily. (4) Clothing. Basic training program inmates will be issued the required clothing specified for the basic training program. Inmates shall not alter or mark any clothing items issued. No other items of clothing will be permitted. (America Online, 1994)
When the inmates first arrive they have an orientation which includes: (1) Inmate identification by photograph, name, and DC number; (2) Initial reception and introduction to the basic training program, will include an explanation of the shock incarceration program and the community residential facilities; (3) Inventory of inmate personal property; (4) Explanation of disciplinary procedures. (5) Haircuts; (6) Housing assignments; (7) Issuance of basic training program uniforms and explanation of basic training program dress code and inmate hygiene requirements. (America Online, 1994)
Programs also differ in whether activities such as work, community services, education, or counseling are incorporated in the schedule of activities. There is some consistency in the goals of the programs, among them to reduce prison crowding and to change offender’s behavior and thus their future involvement in crime. Some jurisdictions stress the need for intensive supervision after release if the behavioral changes brought about by shock incarceration are to continue in the community. Some States impose additional requirements, such as drug testing, while the offender is under parole supervision. Boot camp programs are generally designed for young, nonviolent offenders with their first felony conviction. (Cronin, 1994) These offenders usually volunteer for the program and must meet physical and mental health requirements. Placement and release decisions vary from one program to another and may be made by judges, corrections department administrators, or members of parole boards (Cowels, 1995). Precursors of shock incarceration programs include “shock probation” and “Scared Straight,” that pursued specific deterrence objectives. The Scared Straight program tried to deter young delinquents by making them fearful of prison through short, confrontational performances dramatized inside a prison by hard-core inmates (Cronin, 1994).
Many current shock incarceration programs also seek to deter criminal behavior, but they have other significant goals as well. The early shock probation programs locked up young adult offenders in the prison population for a brief period so they could get a “real” experience with prison life. In contrast to the boot camps, offenders were mixed with general population offenders, and there were no military aspects. Evaluations of the shock probation programs were not positive because participants failed at rates similar to those in comparison groups.
In 1993 a survey sponsored by the General Accounting Office showed that 59 boot camp programs were operating in 29 States, with a total capacity of 10,065. (Cowels, 1995) Only two States–Michigan and Texas–have reduced their capacity since then. The largest programs are in New York and Georgia; together these two States account for half the total capacity nationwide. (Cowels, 1995) Most programs accommodate 100 to 250 inmates and continue to limit participants to young, nonviolent first offenders who enter the boot camps voluntarily, primarily to shorten their prison terms. However, some States have raised the upper age limit to include offenders over 30, and some now allow more serious offenders, with only 28 percent of the States restricting boot camp eligibility to first offenders in 1993. (Cowels, 1995)
Even boot camp proponents, however, believe that the criminal justice system should still proceed cautiously in implementing programs until some of the on-going research and program development efforts are completed. Discussions have centered on issues such as: (1) The projected high cost of treatment-oriented programs because it is difficult to interpret the cost data from different States or make meaningful comparisons across States because of differences in methods of accounting. (2) Criteria to determine the most appropriate and rigorous medical and psychological screening processes. (3) Acquisition of more information about what actually happens in boot camp. (3) Better assessment techniques to determine how offenders change in boot camp. (4) Staff qualifications, including the ability to impose discipline evenhandedly while taking account of individual differences. (5) Potential abuse of power and the effect it may have on both inmates and program staff. (6) The need for clear policies governing the use of immediate punishment, force, and profanity. (Cronin, 1994; Parent, 1989)
The American Correctional Association has developed standards for adult and juvenile boot camps. Research Perspectives of the National Institute of Justice During the mid-1980’s, the Nation’s prison population grew rapidly, crimes by younger offenders escalated steadily, and prisons outgrew their capacity. Therefore, NIJ, the research arm of the Department of Justice, undertook the task of exploring the boot camp concept. In 1988, NIJ sponsored Dr. Doris MacKenzie, then of Louisiana State University, in evaluating the shock incarceration program in that State. The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Correction’s Intensive Motivational Program of Alternative Correctional Treatment (IMPACT), implemented in 1987, was then a two-phased boot camp program. In the first phase, offenders were incarcerated for 90 to 180 days in a rigorous boot camp atmosphere. Following this, they were placed under intensive parole supervision. This second phase required offenders to have at least four contacts a week with their supervising officers, adhere to a strict 8:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew, perform community service, and work. In establishing the IMPACT program, Louisiana’s major stated goal was to create a new sentencing option that would provide placement for inmates who would otherwise be sent to the State’s crowded prison. Other program goals were to provide participants with the life skills they would need to succeed in becoming constructive members of society. The evaluation, designed to examine Louisiana’s success in meeting its goals, examined how the program was implemented, changes in inmate behavior and attitude resulting from the program, and system-level changes such as costs and benefits. The evaluators found that staff saw the program as more than a way of “getting tough” with the young offenders; both the staff and the inmates found their interaction to be more positive than in regular prison. Nonetheless, offenders found the boot camp regimen to be physically and mentally taxing, and many dropped out before completing the program. (Cronin, 1994; Parent, 1989)
Findings from the evaluation indicated that inmates who completed the program believed they had learned valuable lessons and skills, and their positive attitudes grew during the time they were in the program. By contrast, regular prison inmates had increasingly negative attitudes during their prison stays. They said they learned only that they did not want to return to prison. Boot camp offenders were involved in more positive activities during their time under community supervision than other parolees, probationers, and boot camp dropouts, but during the 6-month supervision period, the positive activities of all groups declined. There was no significant difference among all the groups in the percentage arrested during these 6 months. (Cowels, 1995)
Cost savings per boot camp inmate were significant ($13,784). This is over the cost of the longer term incarceration that would have taken place. These savings were somewhat offset by higher costs for the community supervision phase ($5,956), thus netting a total of $7,828 saved for each offender who completed the program instead of going to regular prison. (Cowels, 1995)
The evaluators concluded that programs like IMPACT might achieve the goal of creating new sentencing options for some offenders who would otherwise spend longer terms in prison. Around the same time that the Louisiana evaluation was being completed, the boot camp option was attracting considerable interest as an alternative to traditional imprisonment for young offenders. Boot camp programs were springing up in many parts of the country, but critics were calling for a guarded approach because of major concerns that needed to be thoroughly examined. (Cronin, 1994)
In response, NIJ undertook a multi-site evaluation of boot camp programs. Beginning with a 1989 survey of 50 State correctional jurisdictions to determine what specific program components seemed to work best and for what types of offenders. The survey identified 11 States with shock incarceration programs and explained the differences among them. Different programs placed varying emphasis on rehabilitation, academic education, and vocational education. This information indicated a need to examine the efficacy of boot camp programs. (Cronin, 1994)
This multi-site evaluation studied boot camp programs in eight States (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas) to develop a broader picture of how this popular new sanction was being applied. In general, the study found that the recidivism rates of those completing boot camp programs were similar to those for comparable offenders who spent a longer time in prison. Lower recidivism rates were found in three States, however–New York, Illinois, and Louisiana. Programs in these States had a strong therapeutic focus and included an intensive 6-month supervision phase on release into the community. The findings suggested that the boot camp experience alone is not sufficient for reducing recidivism. (Cowels, 1995)
Even though the boot camp experience was found not to be the total answer for the reduction of recidivism, there are still many uses for it. The data already shown shows that a lot of the inmates that first went to the boot camp style of corrections were straightened out and scared, to a point. Just because the recidivism problem was not answered, boot camps are still a very useful tool in the punishment of young offenders to hopefully “scare them straight.”
America Online. Boot Camps. (1994): n. Online. Internet. 22 Apr. 1999. Available:
Clear, Todd R, and Cole, George F. American Corrections. California: WadsworthPublishing Company, 1997.
Cowels, Ernest L. “Boot Camp aftercare intervention”. Washington, D.C: NationalInstitute of Justice, 1995.
Cronin, Roberta C. “Boot Camps for adult and juvenile offenders”. Washington, D.C: National Institute of Justice, 1994
Parent, Dale. “Shock Incarceration: an overview of existing programs”. Washington, D.C: National Institute of Justice, 1989.
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