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Practice Profile

Juvenile Boot Camps

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

No Effects - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types

Practice Description

Practice Goals
Juvenile boot camps (also called shock or intensive incarceration programs) are short-term residential programs that resemble military basic training and target adjudicated juvenile offenders. The primary goal of juvenile boot camps is to reduce recidivism by modifying participants’ problem behaviors including antisocial behaviors that likely increase their odds of reoffending. Behavior modification occurs through a reinforcement of positive behavior and immediate punishment of negative behavior. A secondary goal is to provide cost-effective sentencing alternatives to incarceration by diverting youth from traditional correctional facilities and having them serve a shorter period of time in the program. Juvenile boot camps also focus on improving youths’ literacy and academic achievement and reducing drug and alcohol abuse through treatment services.

The first juvenile boot camp began operation in Louisiana in 1985. A survey of representatives of state departments of juvenile justice/corrections found that as of the fall of 2009 there were 11 states that operated boot camps for juvenile delinquents (Meade and Steiner 2010). This is down from 30 juvenile boot camps that were operated by state and local agencies by 1995 (Parent 2003).

Target Population
Most boot camps are expressly correctional, meaning they function as a disposition for juveniles who are adjudicated delinquent. However, some boot camps are privately run and may house other troubled youth who are placed in the program by their parents. There are also some school-based boot camp programs designed for students who have broken school rules (Trulson, Triplett, and Snell 2001).

Practice Activities
Because there is no standard boot camp model, programs vary substantially in terms of cost, size, style, staff-to-inmate ratio, and availability of treatment services. There are generally three types of boot camps: the military drilling style that focuses on strict discipline; (2) the rehabilitative model; and (3) the educational/vocational model. Juvenile boot camps may employ elements from the rehabilitative and educational/vocational models, but continue to make the military drill style the central theme (Tyler, Darville, and Stalnaker 2001).

Typically, participants in boot camps are required to follow a rigorous daily schedule of activities similar to that of a military boot camp, including drill and ceremony, manual labor, and physical training. Participants are woken up early each morning and kept busy with various activities throughout the day, so they have little free time. Strict rules are usually in place to regulate all aspects of their conduct and appearance. Punishment for misbehavior is usually swift and may involve some type of physical activity such as push-ups. Often juveniles will enter the boot camps as squads and platoons, and may participate in an intake ceremony where they are immediately required to obey rules, respond to staff in an appropriate way, and stand at attention. At the end of a youth’s term, there may be a graduation ceremony for those who have successfully completed the program.

Some juvenile boot camps also incorporate rehabilitative elements into the program, including education classes, substance abuse, and group counseling. Aftercare services may also be provided to help youth transition back into the community following residential placement. However, the emphasis placed on these youth services as well as their availability and quality varies widely.

There are several aspects of juvenile boot camps that are similar to adult boot camps, such as the rigorous in-take procedures, drill and ceremony, physical training, immediate physical punishment for misbehavior, and the graduation ceremonies. However, juvenile boot camps tend to place more emphasis on the therapeutic components of the program and less emphasis on the hard labor. Juvenile boot camps, as required by law, provide academic education; other treatment services may also be provided as part of a broader rehabilitative philosophy of the juvenile justice system. In addition, aftercare services are viewed as essential services for youth after they leave the program. Juvenile boot camps, compared to adult programs, are far more likely to include these services.

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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No Effects - More than one Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Aggregating results from ten studies, Aos and colleagues (2001) found a small non-significant average effect size (d=0.10). This means, on average, that the recidivism rate for boot camp participants was slightly higher compared to juvenile offenders who went through regular juvenile institutional facilities. Wilson, Mackenzie, and Mitchell (2008) found that, across the 17 independent samples of juvenile boot camp participants, the mean odds-ratio for total crimes was 0.94. 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 combined results suggest that there is no general reduction in recidivism attributable to juvenile boot camps.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11996 - 1999102320
Meta-Analysis 21996 - 2001175773

Meta-Analysis 1

Aos and colleagues (2001) evaluated the costs and benefits of certain juvenile and adult criminal justice policies, violence prevention programs, and other efforts to decrease various at-risk behaviors of youth. The authors used meta-analytic techniques to estimate the degree to which a program or policy can be expected to influence the outcome of interest (i.e. criminality).

The review focused on evaluations that measured a program’s effect on criminal behavior. Program evaluations were gathered from a wide variety of sources, including studies published in peer-reviewed journals as well as government and private agency reports. Once evaluations that met the criteria of inclusion were located, four types of information on the program’s effectiveness in reducing crime were recorded: (1) Did the program affect the percent of the population that offended or reoffend? (2) Of those that offended or reoffended, did the program change the average number of offenses? (3) Did the program affect the types of offenses of those that offended or reoffended? (4) Of those that offended or reoffended, did the program change the timing of offenses? Of the four effects, almost all of the evaluations provided information on the first effect. Far fewer evaluations reported information on the second effect, and even fewer reported information on the third effect. Almost none of the evaluations reported information on the fourth effect.

The search resulted in the inclusion of ten evaluation studies of juvenile boot camp programs. The ten studies included approximately 2,320 study participants, with an average age of 15 years. The studies included published and unpublished evaluations that spanned from 1996 to 1999. No information was provided on the gender and racial/ethnic breakdown of the studies’ samples. The studies were located in various parts of the United States, including Cleveland, Ohio; Denver, Colorado; Mobile, Alabama; Tallahassee, Florida; Clearwater, Florida; Bartow, Florida; Panama City, Florida; California; and Texas.

The mean difference effect size was calculated for each program. Adjustments were made to the effect sizes to account for small sample sizes, evaluations of “non-real world” programs, and for the quality of the research design (the quality of each study was rated using the University of Maryland’s five-point scale; only studies that received a rating of ‘3’ or higher on the scale were included in the analysis). Once effect sizes were calculated for each program effect, the individual measures were added together to produce a weighted average effect size for a program or practice area. The inverse variance weight was calculated for each program effect and those weights were used to compute the average. The fixed effects model was used for the analysis.

Meta-Analysis 2

Wilson, MacKenzie, and Mitchell (2008) analyzed results from 32 unique research studies comparing recidivism for participants enrolled in a correctional boot camp program 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 are on the 17 independent samples of juvenile boot camps 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 exclusively 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 17 independent samples included a total of over 5,000 juvenile study participants. No information was provided on the racial/ethnic and gender breakdown of the studies’ samples. (Most of the student participants were males; 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 Denver, Colorado; Mobile, Alabama; Cleveland, Ohio; California; and various counties throughout Florida (Bay, Leon, Manatee, Martin, Pinellas, and Polk).

The primary outcome of interest for the meta-analysis was recidivism or a return to criminal activity on the part of 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-ration 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 a random effects model was assumed.

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In the report by Aos and colleagues (2001), juvenile boot camps were estimated to have an initial savings of $15,424 per participant. That means boot camps were expected to be cheaper than the alternative of longer stays in regular juvenile institutional facilities. However, this estimate only includes the up-front costs; it omits the downstream costs of higher recidivism rates and crime. These downstream costs offset the up-front savings. For example, the increased incarceration costs to taxpayers would reduce the expected savings to $10,360 per participant. If higher crime victim benefits are added as part of the higher recidivism rate, the savings are –$3,587 per participant, meaning there are higher net costs of juvenile boot camps over the long haul (these estimates are based on the costs to Washington State taxpayers using dollar values from 1999).
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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

Meta-Analysis 1
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.

Meta-Analysis 2
Wilson, David B., Doris L. MacKenzie, and Faw Ngo Mitchell. 2008. Effects of Correctional Boot Camps on Offending. Campbell Systematic Reviews 1.
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Additional References

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

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

Meade, Benjamin, and Benjamin Steiner. 2010. “The Total Effects of Boot Camps That House Juveniles: A Systematic Reviewer of the Evidence.” Journal of Criminal Justice 38:841–53.

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.

Trulson, Chad, Ruth Triplett, and Clete Snell. 2001. “Social Control in a School Setting: Evaluating a School-Based Boot Camp.” Crime & Delinquency 47(4):573–609.

Tyler, Jerry, Ray Darville, and Kathi Stalnaker. 2001. “Juvenile Boot Camps: A Descriptive Analysis of Program Diversity and Effectiveness.” The Social Science Journal 38:445–60.

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.
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Practice Snapshot

Age: 13 - 18

Gender: Both

Targeted Population: Prisoners, Young Offenders

Settings: Correctional

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

Unit of Analysis: Persons