Thursday, October 11, 2007

"The Horrors" in our Youth Boot Camps

In juvenile delinquency we will touch on the issue of correctional boot camps and their efficacy regarding rehabilitation and recidivism. These facilities have been ideologically popular since the wave of "get tough on crime" mania during the 90's.

As the GAO describes them in a new report, "Since the early 1990s, hundreds of residential treatment programs and facilities have been established in the United States by state agencies and private companies. Many of these programs are intended to provide a less restrictive alternative to incarceration or hospitalization for youth who may require intervention to address emotional or behavioral challenges. "

There are anywhere from 10,000-20,000 juveniles under age 18 in these camps, wilderness settings and residential treatment centers in the U.S. at any given time. Yet reports of brutality and death are starting to surface.

The GAO report paints an even grimmer picture of these facilities, saying there are "widespread reports of abuse" in these "privately run boot camps and other residential treatment centers, with examples numbering in the thousands." The report "examined the cases of 10 teenagers who died while at programs in six states, finding significant evidence of ineffective management and reckless or negligent operating practices.”

It also "detailed evidence that teenagers were starved, forced to eat their own vomit, and to wallow for hours in their own excrement. In one instance, a boy was so dehydrated that he ate dirt to survive, according to witnesses and an autopsy. Investigators also found that owners and employees were seldom sent to prison, even when teenagers died in their care."

The most damning part of the report regards privatization. Long popular in other areas of corrections, privatizing is often done in the name of "saving money", with private businesses or organizations arguing they can run prisons (or boot camps) at a more cost effective rate than can the government. Government then contracts with these businesses on a per/inmate, per/day contract.

Most of the boot camps detailed in the report are run by private organizations, "which cost from $130 to $450 a day. Some receive federal money for special education and other services, but they face no federal oversight. While some states regulate them closely, others do not even require that they be licensed."

Not only do these camps operate without any clear guidelines or professional standards, but the entire philosophy behind them, that you can "scare" or "degrade" a child into a law abiding life, has been disproved and discredited time and again in the majority of correctional research.

While the report cautions against overgeneralizing its results, I think we can all agree that experimenting in bone and flesh to save a buck is no way to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents.

UPDATE: "Seven Guards Acquitted in Teens Death." The seven guards and one nurse charged with aggravated manslaughter in the death of one 14 year old boot camper in Florida were found not guilty by a jury yesterday. While the verdict will probably be debated for some time, the one thing that isn't debatable is the justification by one of the guards concerning their actions, which were caught on video: "Those techniques were taught to us and used for a purpose."

1 comment:

Janet March said...

Most boot camps and residential treatment centers are not about abuse and punishment but rather about help. Of course there are rules and these are strictly followed with appropriate punishment to help steer the kids into line. But the main thrust of the programs is to discover the root cause of the kid’s behavioral problems and poor performance in school.