Additional Resources:

Practice Profile

Adult Boot Camps

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Correctional boot camps (also called shock or intensive incarceration programs) are short-term residential programs that resemble military basic training and target convicted adult offenders. The first boot camps began operation in the adult correctional systems of Georgia and Oklahoma in 1983. Boot camps are designed as alternative sanctions to reduce recidivism rates, as well as prison populations and operating costs. The aim is to reduce recidivism by modifying participants’ problem behaviors that likely contribute to their odds of reoffending. Behavior modification occurs through reinforcement of positive behavior and immediate punishment of negative behavior. In addition, prison populations could be reduced because inmates are diverted from traditional incarceration facilities and receive shorter sentences as participants in a boot camp program. Correctional operating costs can therefore be reduced by decreases in both the prison population and recidivism rates.

Target Population
Most adult boot camp programs limit participation to young, first-time, nonviolent offenders. However, the eligibility criteria and selection process can vary substantially by program.

Practice Activities
Typically, boot camp participants are required to follow a rigorous daily schedule of activities that can include drill and ceremony, manual labor, and physical training similar to a military boot camp. Participants are awoken early every morning and are kept busy with various activities throughout the day with little free time. Strict rules regulate all aspects of inmates’ conduct and appearance. Correctional officers act as drill instructors and may be given military titles that participants are required to address them by. They use intense verbal tactics to discourage opposition and instigate behavior change in inmates. Punishment for misbehavior is usually swift and may involve some type of physical activity such as push-ups.

Often groups of inmates will enter the boot camp as squads or a platoon, and may participate in an intake ceremony where they are immediately required to follow the rules, respond to staff in an appropriate way, and stand at attention. At the end of an inmate’s term, there may be a graduation ceremony for those who have successfully completed the program.

Although most boot camps contain similar basic characteristics, there is no standard boot camp model and therefore individual programs can differ greatly. For instance, the amount of time and focus placed on physical training and hard labor compared to the therapeutic components of the program (such as academic education, drug treatment, or life skills training) may vary. Some boot camps may also offer an aftercare or reentry program designed to help program participants adjust to the community following their release, while others offer no such service.

In addition, the programs may differ on whether they are designed to be an alternative to probation or to prison. For example, in some jurisdictions a judge may sentence an offender to serve time in a boot camp instead of probation. In other jurisdictions, inmates already serving time in prison may be identified by correctional staff to be transferred into a boot camp program.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

top border
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Wilson, Mackenzie, and Mitchell (2008) found that across the 26 independent samples of adult boot camp participants, the mean odds ratio for total crimes was 1.05. This figure was not statistically significant, meaning that the likelihood of boot camp participants recidivating was roughly equal to the likelihood of comparison participants recidivating. The result suggests there is no general reduction in recidivism attributable to boot camps.
bottom border

Meta-Analysis Methodology

top border
Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11991 - 200326113053

Meta-Analysis 1

Wilson, MacKenzie, and Mitchell (2008) analyzed results from 32 unique research studies comparing recidivism for participants enrolled in correctional boot camp programs versus some type of comparison condition. Three of the studies reported results from multiple treatment-comparison contrasts. As a result, the 32 studies produced 43 independent samples for analysis. Of the 43 independent samples, 26 included adult boot camp participants and 17 included juvenile boot camp participants. The focus of the results reported here is on the 26 independent samples of adult boot camp participants.

A comprehensive search was used to locate eligible studies. Studies were eligible if (1) they evaluated a correctional boot camp, shock incarceration, or intensive incarceration program (i.e., a residential program for convicted offenders that incorporates a militaristic environment and/or structured strenuous physical activity other than work); (2) they included a comparison group that received either probation or incarceration in an alternative facility (one-group research designs were not eligible); (3) study participants were under the supervision of the criminal or juvenile justice system (i.e., convicted of or adjudicated for an offense); and (4) they reported a post-program measure of criminal behavior, such as arrest or conviction. The comprehensive literature search is current through February 2008.

Of the 32 research studies located during the search process, 22 studies were government reports, eight were found in peer-reviewed journals, and two were available as unpublished technical reports. The 26 independent samples included a total of over 11,000 adult study participants. No information was provided on the racial/ethnic and gender breakdown of the studies’ samples (however, most of the study participants were males as only two studies examined the effects of female-only boot camps and seven evaluated mixed gender boot camps). The studies were located in various parts of the United States, including Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Alabama, and Pennsylvania.

The primary outcome of interest for the meta-analysis was recidivism or a return to criminal activity by the offender after leaving the program (i.e., post-release arrest, conviction, or reinstitutionalization). The analysis looked at nonviolent/nonperson crimes, mixed crimes (violent and nonviolent), and total crimes. Because recidivism data is usually reported dichotomously (whether an offender did or did not reoffend), the index of effectiveness used in the review was the odds ratio. The odds ratio is an index of the failure (or success) of one condition relative to another. An odds ratio of 1 indicates that both conditions had equal odds of failure. The independent treatment-comparison samples were the unit-of-analysis for the review. The mean odds ratio across studies was computed using the inverse variance weight method and assuming a random effects model.

bottom border


top border
In the report by Aos and colleagues (2001), the authors found that on average, adult boot camps are cheaper than standard incarceration. However, how much cheaper depends on the resources that boot camps can avoid. For example, if a boot camp program is used as an alternative to incarceration, Aos and colleagues estimated an up-front savings of $9,725 per offender. On the other hand, if a boot camp program is only used as a partial diversion (for instance, the boot camp is used for offenders who would not have otherwise gone to prison), then the savings are less. The range of net benefits was found to be between $10,000 per boot camp participant for a true diversion from prison, to $3,500 per boot camp participant for partial diversion from prison (these estimates are based on the costs to Washington State taxpayers using dollar values from 1995).
bottom border

Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

top border
These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Wilson, David B., Doris L. MacKenzie, and Faw Ngo Mitchell. 2008. Effects of Correctional Boot Camps on Offending. Campbell Systematic Reviews 1.
bottom border

Additional References

top border
These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

American Correctional Association. 1995. Standards for Adult Correctional Boot Camp Programs. Alexandria, VA: American Correctional Association.

Aos, Steve, Polly Phipps, Robert Barnoksi, and Roxanne Lieb. 2001. The Comparative Costs and Benefits of Programs to Reduce Crime. Version 4.0. Olympia, WA: Washington State Institute for Public Policy. (This meta-analysis was reviewed but did not meet criteria for inclusion in the overall outcome rating.)

MacKenzie, Doris L. and Eugene E. Hebert. 1996. Correctional Boot Camps: A Tough Intermediate Sanction. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice.

Parent, Dale. 2003. Correctional Boot Camps: Lessons From a Decade of Research. Washington, DC: Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice.

Wilson, David B., Doris L. MacKenzie, and Fawn T. Ngo. 2010. Effects of Correctional Boot-Camps on Offending. Crime Prevention Review No. 5. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
bottom border

Related Programs

top border
Following are programs that are related to this practice:

Residential Aftercare Component of Quehanna (PA) Motivational Boot Camp Program No Effects - One study
This program provides residential aftercare services for those with substance abuse issues who have completed the 6-month Quehanna (PA) Motivational Boot Camp Program. The program is rated No Effects. An examination of the impact of both 30- and 90-day aftercare programs found no significant effects of treatment of either dosage on recidivism.

Quehanna (PA) Motivational Boot Camp No Effects - One study
This 6-month program aims to reduce recidivism by diverting eligible candidates from prison to a boot camp that promotes discipline, structure, and characteristics of good citizenship and seeks to improve skills for reentry into the community. The program is rated No Effects. Though the differences in the 3-year recidivism rates between the boot camp participants compared with non-participants were statistically significant, the differences were small.

Challenge Incarceration Program (CIP) Promising - One study
This boot camp intervention in Minnesota combines a traditional military institutional program for 6 months with two 6-month phases of intensive, supervised release aftercare. The program is rated Promising. Program participants had statistically significant lower rates of re-arrest, felony reconviction, and return to prison for a new offense than the comparison group, but no statistically significant difference in the rate of return to prison for any offense.

High Intensity Training (HIT) Regime at Thorn Cross Young Offenders Institution (England) No Effects - One study
This program is a correctional boot camp that combines elements of military training with elements of rehabilitation to prepare individuals ages 18 to 21 (considered “young offenders”) for reentry into their communities. The program is rated No Effects. At the 10-year follow up, there was no statistically significant impact on reconviction rates. Program participants had a statistically significant fewer number of reconvictions, compared with the control group; however, the difference was small.
bottom border

Practice Snapshot

Age: 18+

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Prisoners

Settings: Correctional

Practice Type: Alternatives to Incarceration, Boot Camps, Diversion, Specific deterrence

Unit of Analysis: Persons