ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION
Political and Social Affairs Division
OF U.S. BOOT CAMPS
OF BOOT CAMPS
RESEARCH ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF BOOT CAMPS
BOOT CAMPS: ISSUES FOR CONSIDERATION
camps, based on a military basic training model stressing discipline and
physical conditioning, have been in operation in the United States for
over 15 years. In Canada, legislators have only recently begun to consider
them as a sentencing option for young offenders. In 1994, Alberta established
a strict discipline "work camp" facility for aboriginal young
offenders,(1) and a "made
in Manitoba model" boot camp for young offenders has been set up
in that province. At a news conference held at the Ontario Legislature
on 29 August 1996, the Solicitor General of Ontario announced his governments
intention to establish a "strict discipline" pilot program for
30 to 50 high-risk repeat male young offenders by January 1997.(2)
An Ontario Task Force on Strict Discipline for Young Offenders, appointed
by the Solicitor General and Minister of Correctional Services, recommended
a program that would have as its essential features "highly structured
16-hour days, mandatory education, uniforms, life skills training, rigorous
physical activity and no idle time." The pilot project is to be divided
into two components: offenders will serve four to six months in a secure-custody
facility and three to six months under supervision in a community-based
open-custody facility. Strict discipline is a key consideration in the
proposed program. In explaining the Ontario governments decision
to create a boot camp-like facility for violent youth, the provinces
Solicitor General stated, "Ontario residents have repeatedly called
for tougher sanctions against youths who show a flagrant disregard for
the law. This government is committed to delivering a programme that would
expose young offenders to the concepts of discipline and personal responsibilities."(3)
are boot camps intended to achieve? Have they succeeded in meeting their
objectives? This paper will consider these questions through a brief discussion
of the development of U.S. boot camps and an examination of the findings
from evaluation research on their effectiveness.
OF U.S. BOOT CAMPS
camps first appeared in the United States as a sentencing option in 1983.
There are currently more than 40 such prisons in 29 states.(4)
They represent one of the sentencing options with "bite" that
have been made available to judges in the U.S. over the past two decades.
In the U.S. literature on sentencing, boot camps are included in the range
of penalties referred to as "intermediate sanctions." These
penal sanctions, also referred to as "community-based prison alternatives,"
are intended to be harsher and more restrictive than probation, and less
onerous and restrictive than prison.(5)
Since time in boot camps, by definition, involves detention, albeit in
non-conventional prisons and involving significantly shorter sentences,
the term "intermediate sentences" appears to be a misnomer.
While the lack of conceptual clarity extant in the literature on community-based
sanctions will not be resolved in this paper, it has been highlighted
because two of the stated objectives of U.S. boot camp prisons are to
relieve prison overcrowding and reduce correctional costs.
development of sanctions such as boot camps in the U.S. during the 1980s
and 1990s is associated with three related factors.(6)
First, in the 1960s and 1970s the efficacy of rehabilitation efforts in
preventing recidivism and protecting the public was challenged by those
advancing the view that "nothing works"; consequently, "rehabilitation
lost credibility as a basis for sentencing."(7)
Second, the rehabilitative rationale for sentencing was supplanted by
"just deserts" concern that punishment should be proportional
with the crime. It was held that the severity of the penalty should be
scaled to the gravity of the offenders crime and not to the therapeutic
needs of individual offenders and the risks they pose. Third, criminal
justice issues became politicized. Increasingly, law and order proponents
linked public safety to harsher sentences and campaigned on promises to
implement the latter. Political pressure for more severe penalties, coupled
with the notion that any sanction less than prison does not count, diminished
the acceptability of "mere" probation as a sentencing option.
Consequently, state and federal correctional populations underwent unprecedented
growth, as did the costs of building and maintaining prison facilities.
developments resulted in a quadrupling in the number of state and
federal prisoners between 1975 (240,593) and midyear 1994 (1,012,851)
and in substantial overcrowding of American prisons....In 1994 and
1995, corrections budgets were the fastest rising component of state
response, states began to implement boot camp programs to divert offenders
from conventional prison. The anticipated effects of the new programs
- to provide tough penalties for criminal law violations while reducing
prison overcrowding, costs to taxpayers and recidivism - explain their
appeal as a sentencing option. Indeed, the considerable public support
in the U.S. for boot camps continues to grow, in large part because their
quasi-military environment, emphasizing strict discipline, hard physical
labour, exercise, drill and ceremony, is perceived to be a tough, appropriate
punishment for those who have breached the criminal law.(9)
OF BOOT CAMPS
boot camp prisons impose a harsh and demanding regime on offenders. The
programs share the features of a minimum-security custodial facility,
although the setting is not a standard prison and the time served is relatively
short (usually 90 to 180 days). All boot camp prisons are modelled on
the military basic training regime but in other important respects they
vary considerably.(10) Although
some U.S. boot camps accept juvenile and female offenders, the typical
participant is a male between 17 and 25 years of age. Some U.S. boot camp
inmates enter the program through the "back door"; that is,
they are selected by correctional officials from a group of offenders
sentenced by the court to serve a conventional prison term. Other programs
receive inmates through the "front door"; that is, the court
imposes a sentence of a term in boot camp. U.S. boot camps also differ
with respect to the proportion of inmates who are dismissed prior to the
completion of the program, whether offenders can elect to be admitted
to a boot camp, and whether inmates can freely choose to drop out and
serve the rest of their sentence in prison.
from the literature, the most important differences among U.S. boot camps
are in the content and duration of daily activities. Programming corresponding
to the criminogenic needs of offenders, such as drug treatment, counselling
and educational training, is given prominence in some boot camps, whereas
in others the emphasis is on work, drill and physical training with minimal
or no rehabilitative interventions. Upon an offenders release from
a boot camp, the type of after-care or support provided in the community
also varies. Some offenders are placed on regular probation, some receive
intensive probation supervision, and others are monitored electronically.
effective are boot camp programs in meeting their objectives of relieving
prison overcrowding while reducing correctional costs and the re-offence
rate of participants? Since boot camps have only just begun to make an
appearance in Canada and no empirical evaluation studies have been conducted
to date, the information that follows relies on the results of U.S. research
RESEARCH ON THE EFFECTIVENESS OF BOOT CAMPS
study examined the re-offence rates of males released from boot camp programs
in eight states: Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, Oklahoma,
South Carolina, and Texas.(11)
For the most part, participation in a boot camp program was limited to
young males who had committed nonviolent offences and had no prior felony
convictions or sentences of incarceration. Their rates of re-offending
were compared with those of recidivism in comparison groups - male prison
parolees, probationers, and boot camp dropouts whose demographic characteristics,
criminal history and current offence rendered them legally eligible for
participation in boot camps.
camp "graduates" and those in the comparison groups revealed
no significant differences in their rates of recidivism in
four of the states - Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and South Carolina. In other
words, the researchers found no evidence that boot camp prisons had an
impact on subsequent re-offending. In the remaining four states, some
significant differences were found.
from the Georgia program actually re-offended at higher rates than their
counterparts in the comparison sample. This negative outcome was attributed
to the fact that the Georgia boot camp emphasized physical conditioning
and military-style discipline and offered minimal interventions to address
the treatment needs of offenders.
suspect that the emphasis on the military basic training without
any therapeutic emphasis is a key contributor to this negative impact,
and future research should carefully address this issue.(12)
Illinois, Louisiana, and New York boot camps were found to be more successful.
Those who completed the program had lower re-offence rates than the comparison
groups on most measures of recidivism. Features of the three programs
identified as accounting for this positive outcome included the fact that:
three or more hours of rehabilitative efforts were structured into the
daily schedule of activities; upon completion of the boot camp program,
releasees were intensively supervised and supported in the community;
program participants had all been sentenced to a prison term but had volunteered
to serve their sentences in the boot camp as opposed to a conventional
prison; and the duration of the successful programs (120 to 180 days)
was longer than that of other boot camp programs. These findings are consistent
with research showing that high quality correctional treatment strategies
and intensive after-care are associated with reductions in recidivism,
whereas punishment alone is not.(13)
study evaluated three demonstration boot camp programs for juveniles in
Cleveland (Ohio), Denver (Colorado), and Mobile (Alabama).(14)
Participants in the 90-day programs were males under 18 years of age who
had been convicted of nonviolent offences. Daily routines were highly
structured, with offenders subjected to military exercises and discipline,
hard labour and physical fitness. Programs differed with respect to the
availability of rehabilitative interventions such as academic and life
skills education, counselling, and substance abuse treatment. The Cleveland
program attempted to achieve a balance between the rehabilitative needs
of the inmates and the demands of a military regime. It was the only program
to emphasize therapeutic strategies and acknowledge the importance of
"building healthy, pro-social norms in a safe, comfortable environment
that was given order through military regimentation."(15)
Both the Denver and Mobile boot camp prisons emphasized a military-style
approach focusing on fostering acceptable behaviour and discouraging deviance.
Denver participants received the least educational and life skills programming
while those in the Mobile program were offered slightly more. Staff selected
to run the Cleveland program had both military and counselling experience,
while a military background was the primary qualification sought for staff
in Denver and Mobile. Only the Cleveland program was voluntary and all
of its participants had been prison-bound. The Mobile program accepted
youth who had been unsuccessful on probation, while Denver targeted probationers.
Finally, each of the programs was followed by six to nine months of community-based
after-care, which in Cleveland and Denver was conducted in centres specifically
set up for the purpose. Those released at the end of the Mobile program
were directed to local Girls and Boys Clubs where they could take part
in after-school and evening activities. In Denver, the focus of after-care
was on academic instruction. Rehabilitation programming in Cleveland offered
continuity between the boot camp and after-care phases.
the residential phase, offenders at each of the three boot camp sites
showed improvements in their attitudes, behaviour, educational performance,
and physical conditioning, with the majority "graduating" from
the programs. The positive effects of intensive discipline, control and
scrutiny on their behaviour dissipated, however, once these constraints
were removed.(16) In effect,
the imposition of discipline in the daily routine had failed to instil
self-discipline in many of the juvenile offenders. At no site did more
than half of the participants successfully complete after-care and a significant
proportion of youth were arrested for new criminal offences. The after-care
failure and re-arrest rates in Denver were 70.5% and 32.8% respectively;
in Cleveland, 50% and 33%; and in Mobile, 28.3% and 20.2%. Mobiles
relatively low failure rate is attributed to the fact that program targeted
youth with less serious criminal backgrounds than those in the Denver
and Cleveland boot camps. In fact, it is suggested that all of the programs
may have accepted too many inappropriate offenders.
of the programmes may have included too many serious offenders,
while the third camp appeared to have included too many youths for
whom less restrictive and cheaper probation sanctions would have
been more appropriate.(17)
further study evaluated attitudinal change among boot camp inmates in
Harris County, Texas.(18)
Participants in the 90-day program included convicted offenders (between
the ages of 17 and 24 years) under probation supervision. Although the
emphasis of the program was on "paramilitary training" (i.e.,
physical conditioning) participants were provided with some vocational
skills training, and alcohol and drug counselling. In the second phase
of the program, participants were released into "super-intensive"
probation supervision for an additional 90 days. The objective of the
research was to evaluate probationers upon their entering and leaving
the program and to determine the impact of the boot camp experience on
their attitudes to: boot camp staff, the boot camp program, the role of
punishment and rehabilitation in the program, and future opportunities;
substance abuse counselling; AIDS education/counselling; quality of relations
with family and friends; and indicators of self control, impulsiveness,
and coping skills.(19)
camp participants responses to questions in these surveys indicated
a positive attitudinal change among the probationers who had completed
the program. These offenders reported favourable impressions of the boot
camp program and of their future opportunities, positive effects of drug
and alcohol counselling services, improved relationships with family members,
and feelings of greater self-control and less impulsiveness.(20)
The research did not assess the rates of probationers completion
of the after-care phase of the program or of their criminal behaviour
U.S. boot camp programs are intended to reduce the size of the prison
population, correctional costs and re-offending rates. In the considered
opinion of one researcher, the findings of evaluation research "are
some studies have shown the attitudes and behaviour of participants while
in the boot camp program to be more positive than those of their counterparts
serving prison sentences, the recidivism rates of the two groups after
their release tend to converge. The few studies showing a lower re-offence
rate among boot camp "graduates" than among comparison groups
have found an association between reduced recidivism and factors such
as rehabilitative programming and better quality of after-care, rather
than between recidivism and physical exercise and military discipline.(22)
One researcher noted:
a highly regimented atmosphere by itself (with strict rules and
discipline, physical training, and hard labor) reduced the recidivism
of offenders who completed boot camp, releasees should have lower
rates of recidivism than comparable offenders receiving different
sentences. This did not happen. Thus, we concluded that the boot
camp atmosphere alone does not reduce recidivism, nor does it result
in higher recidivism than characterizes those who spend a longer
term in prison.(23)
assessing the impact of boot camps on prison overcrowding has also failed
to yield optimistic results. This is in large part a function of the type
of offenders who are sentenced to serve time in boot camps. There is mounting
evidence that the eligibility criteria built into the design of these
programs are often ignored by judges, who tend to use them for low-risk
offenders who would not in fact have been sent to prison. Only half of
the offenders sentenced to a boot camp are estimated to be diverted from
prison; the other half are diverted from probation.(24)
This practice is known as "net-widening." For penalties to be
genuine alternatives to confinement and actually effect a reduction in
the size of the prison population, they must target offenders who have
been sentenced to regular prison terms. One analyst estimates that to
save prison space, 80% of boot camp participants would otherwise have
had to be destined for prison.(25)
described above, boot camps impose a strict and physically demanding regime
on offenders and require them to undergo intensive probation supervision
in the community when they leave the program. These requirements, it has
been found, are related to a significant number of in-program failures
and violations of after-care conditions, which result in new prison sentences.
Between 30 and 50% of boot camp participants fail to complete their program
and the revocation rate for technical violations is higher for boot camp
completers in community-based after-care than for similar offenders on
ordinary probation. This is because the former are more intensively monitored
and therefore more likely to get caught.(26)
significant proportion of those who are re-sentenced to prison were diverted
into the boot camp from probation rather than incarceration. This creates
new demands for prison space; if the boot camp had not existed, the offenders
would probably have received a less restrictive community-based sentence.
When the net is widened and carceral sanctions are imposed for program
failure and breach of after-care conditions, prison use, crowding and
criminal justice costs are augmented rather than diminished.
camps illustrate most vividly of all intermediate sanctions the
ways in which net-widening, rigorous enforcement of conditions,
and high revocation rates can produce the unintended side effect
of increased costs and prison use from programmes intended to reduce
fact, modest reductions in prison population size and costs have been
achieved by vesting correctional staff with the authority to transfer
appropriate, incarcerated offenders to boot camp.(28)
Though curtailing the discretion of judges to sentence offenders to intermediate
sanction programs is one way of limiting net-widening, it fails to address
the high rates of in-program failure and after-care revocations.
light of evidence derived over more than a decade, a U.S. researcher with
extensive experience in evaluating boot camps has proposed a framework
to meet the goal of reducing prison populations. It contains the
to strict discipline, and rigorously enforced rules and sanctions
for breaches, boot camps should include a high quality rehabilitative
component to promote pro-social attitudes and behaviour and minimize
in-program rates of failure.
recidivism rates is another matter,
however. In the few programs where this was achieved, it was attributed
to the quality of the boot camps rehabilitation programming and
post-program support, not to its strict, military regime. These findings
prompt the following research question: would a non-carceral sanction
characterized by intensive, high quality therapeutic interventions and
after-care, without the military basic training component, reduce recidivism
more or less than boot camps?(30)
social and legal policy issues for legislators include enhancing personal
and community safety, reducing the fear that crime inspires, and expanding
"non-carceral" sentences to reduce correctional populations
and costs. Boot camps, a popular U.S. sanction intended to achieve these
policy objectives, are beginning to gain support in Canada, particularly
for young offenders. Objective social science research -- the foundation
of sound criminal justice policies and programs -- has, however, consistently
found that expectations of what these interventions can achieve have been
fact, this "strict discipline" sanction in the U.S. has not
demonstrably reduced re-offending behaviour or improved the safety of
communities. Nor have boot camps succeeded in reducing recourse to conventional
prisons. Rather, in a number of jurisdictions the program has contributed
to "net-widening," thereby increasing pressure on over-stretched
correctional resources. Possible net-widening effects of boot camps do
not appear to be an issue in this country since "finding alternatives
to incarceration is not one of the driving forces for the development
of boot camps in Canada."(31)
re-offence rates is the stated objective of the proposed Ontario program,
according to the provinces Solicitor General: "Its my
belief that a strict discipline facility will help these young people
stop re-offending, get back on their feet and turn their lives around."(32)
Not surprisingly, this initiative has met with mixed responses. Its supporters
applaud the "get tough" posture adopted by the government. Its
critics decry the establishment of a strict discipline facility in light
of the research showing that prisons in general, and boot camps in particular,
do not significantly reduce crime levels. One opposition Liberal Party
member in the provincial legislature has described the proposed program
as "a knee-jerk reaction to that hot button issue out there that
all these kids need is a quick kick in the butt and all our problems will
is the Ontario governments intention to evaluate the impact of the
"strict discipline" program on recidivism rates after it has
been operating for 6, 12 and 18 months. Assuming the evaluation research
includes a control group to allow for a comparison between the effectiveness
of the program and that of other sentences of the youth court, this should
yield an objective measure of the short-term rehabilitative effects of
the Ontario "strict discipline" initiative on the attitudes
and behaviour of anti-social, violent young offenders.
John Howard Society of Ontario, "Boot Camps for Young Offenders,"
Fact Sheet #8, August 1996, p. 2.
Canada Newswire, Task Force Recommends "Strict Discipline"
Pilot Project," Toronto, 29 August 1996.
L. Wright, Young Offenders Boot Camps Ready Next Fall, Tories Say,"
Toronto Star, 21 November 1995.
D.G. Parent, "Boot Camps Failing to Achieve Goals," in M. Tonry
and K. Hamilton (eds.), Intermediate Sanctions in Overcrowded Times,
Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1995, p. 139.
Tonry and. Hamilton (1995).
M. Tonry, Sentencing Matters, Oxford University Press, New York,
1996, p. 100-101.
Ibid., p. 100.
Ibid., p. 100-101.
D.L. MacKenzie, et al., "Boot Camp Prisons and Recidivism
in Eight States," Criminology, Vol. 33, No. 3, 1995, p. 327.
Ibid., p. 328.
Ibid., p. 352.
Ibid., p. 353.
B.B. Bourque, et al., "Boot Camps for Juvenile Offenders:
An Implementation Evaluation of Three Demonstration Programs," Research
in Brief, National Institute of Justice, May 1996.
Ibid., p. 4.
Ibid., p. 8.
V.S. Burton, et al., "A Study of Attitudinal Change Among
Boot Camp Participants," Federal Probation, September 1993.
Ibid., p. 46.
Ibid., p. 51.
Parent (1995), p. 139.
D.L. MacKenzie, "Boot Camps - A National Assessment," in Tonry
and Hamilton (1995), p. 152.
Ibid., p. 155.
Tonry (1996), p. 106.
Parent (1995), p. 142.
Tonry (1996), p. 110.
Ibid., p. 111.
Ibid., p. 110.
Parent (1995), p. 146-7.
MacKenzie et al. (1995) p. 354.
John Howard Society of Ontario (1996), p. 2.
M. Mittelstaedt, "Violent Offenders Will Be Sent to Boot Camp,"
Globe & Mail (Toronto), 30 August 1996.
Southam News, "Kinder, Gentler Boot Camp Planned," Ottawa
Citizen, 30 August 1996.