Remember Boot Camps? Here’s Why They Failed

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In response to rising crime rates, many states and localities created military-style boot camps as an alternative sanction that might reduce recidivism, prison populations, and operating costs. A new analysis by the U.S. Justice Department finds that the camps “have had difficulty meeting these objectives.

Boot camps proliferated in the late 1980s and early 1990s. By 1995, states operated 75 boot camps for state and local agencies operated 30 juvenile boot camps, and larger counties operated 18 boot camps in local jails.

Criminologist Dale Parent concludes in a study for the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) that:

o Boot camps generally had positive effects on the attitudes, perceptions, behavior, and skills of inmates during their confinement.

o With limited exceptions, these positive changes did not translate into reduced recidivism.

o Boot camps can achieve small reductions in prison populations and modest reductions in correctional costs under a narrow set of conditions–admitting offenders with a high likelihood of otherwise serving a conventional

prison term and offering discounts in time served to those who complete boot camps.

Research identified three factors largely responsible for the failure of boot camps to reach goals related to prison population and recidivism:

o Mandates to reduce prison populations through early release made volunteering for boot camps unnecessary as a means of shortening sentences.

o Lack of a standard boot camp model.

o Insufficient focus on offenders’ reentry into the community.

After the mid-1990s, the number of boot camps declined. By 2000, nearly one-third of state prison boot camps had closed; only 51 camps remained. The average daily population in state boot camps also dropped more than 30 percent.


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