A study of the Pinellas County, Florida boot camp for juveniles, requested by Sheriff Jim Coats, found the program to be a phenomenal failure.
The study's results, reported in March 2006, revealed that 90 percent of boot camp graduates eventually return to a life of crime and delinquency. Of the 740 youths who participated in the Pinellas County program between November 1993 and November 2005, a staggering 666 were rearrested after successfully graduating; 607 received some form of criminal conviction.
A state report indicated that between 2003 and 2004, 61 percent of the boot camp graduates were in trouble again within a year. Fifty-two percent were charged with felonies, many of which included property, drugs and violence. Juvenile justice researcher Steven Chapman stated that between 2003 and 2004, Florida boot camps as a whole had a recidivism rate of 41 percent, which was just 3 percent lower than halfway houses for moderate-risk youths.
Somewhere, there's a breakdown in the system here, said Coats. He suggested that the program would benefit from a residential re-entry facility for boot camp graduates, believing that a more gradual transition back into society is needed.
The camp houses 14 to 18-year-old youths in platoons of 10-15 each. The juveniles attend discipline-oriented classes and are subjected to a highly structured lifestyle. Transition training is also provided before a graduate returns to the community, which raises the question of how much a re-entry facility would actually help.
County Commissioner Bob Stewart expressed surprise that the boot camp was such a failure. He also was skeptical about investing more in the program. I can see the advantage of such a plan, said Stewart. But he noted a re-entry residence could be a very expensive proposition.
The State and County currently pay $2.7 million a year to operate the failed facility. But at least the Pinellas County program is only costing money.
As previously reported in PLN, on January 6, 2006, the Bay County boot camp cost one boy his life. Martin Lee Anderson, 14, was punched and kicked by boot camp guards after he complained of being unable to breathe. Six guards were captured on video assaulting the boy. The Bay County medical examiner said the assault did not cause Andersons death, but on March 10, 2006 his body was exhumed for a second autopsy, which found he had been suffocated. [See: PLN, July 2006, p.9].
Hunter Hurst, a senior research assistant at the National Center for Juvenile Justice, stated, I think boot camps are misguided. Hurst maintains that statistical data does not support the belief that boot camps are more effective than other types of programs. There are other experiences like wilderness camps, for example that could be more constructive.
The Pinellas County boot camp for juvenile offenders was closed at the end of June 2006, along with a similar boot camp in Manatee County. On July 1, 2006, largely due to Andersons death, a new state law went into effect that replaced the states juvenile boot camps with residential Training and Respect programs that prohibit physical discipline and focus on education, job training and counseling.
Such programs will likely be less fatal, too.
Sources: The St. Petersburg Times, AP
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