‘Correctional Fad’ 1990s-Style Boot Camps Are Fading Out

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Moriah Shock Incarceration Correctional Facility in New York State  is one of the last U.S. prisons that tries to “shock” inmates out of criminal behavior through a military-style boot camp, the Wall Street Journal reports. Inmates typically trade multiyear sentences for six-month stints. The programs formerly were widespread, but fell out of favor amid debate about their effectiveness. Two of the remaining handful are in New York, where correction officials say their military-style training reduces recidivism and saves taxpayer money through shorter sentences. “It instills self-discipline,” said Boyce Rawson, a captain at Moriah. “Inmates take personal pride in themselves as well as their platoon.”

As recently as 1995, there were 75 state-operated boot camps nationwide for adult offenders, 30 for juveniles and 18 in local jails, including at New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex. The 1994 federal crime law allocated millions for such programs. Reviews were mixed. A Justice Department analysis found the camps had a positive effect on inmates’ attitudes, behavior, and safety while in prison. Studies found the programs had no notable impact on recidivism. They have gradually closed. The Federal Bureau of Prisons ended its boot camps in 2005. Other states have shifted their camps toward what they call more “evidence-based,” rehabilitative models.  Doris MacKenzie, a retired Pennsylvania State University criminologist, called the camps a correctional fad and said she would not recommend opening one today. For some inmates, the atmosphere and shorter sentences may be better than several years in prison. “It isn’t an easy program to dismiss,” she said.


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