Five young boys were the first recruits to a juvenile delinquent academy debuted by the Pinellas County, Fl., Sheriff last weekend, says the St. Petersburg Times. The new program uses less confrontational techniques than traditional juvenile boot camps. Gone are the military-like commands and marching drills. The Sheriff’s Training and Respect, or STAR, Weekend Program is a scaled-down version of a boot camp. It is available to troubled children between 7 and 17. It aims to prevent at-risk kids from becoming criminals. “This is an opportunity to get involved with the kids before they get involved with the criminal justice system,” said Sheriff Jim Coats. “We’re here to tell them there are expectations for being law-abiding citizens.
Unlike traditional boot camps, the children have not been convicted of crimes in most cases. Most of those in the Florida program had had problems with anger, respect, and poor grades. They go through some physical training, and instructors talk about the criminal justice system, drug use, and anger management. They and their parents are given counseling. Staff members keep tabs on the children for six months through quasi-mentor relationships. They make sure the children attend school, avoid violent outbursts, stay away from drugs, and mind their parents. The lack of followup is why a former boot camp failed. This spring, a study found that 666 of the 740 youths who attended the camp were arrested afterward. The Pinellas boot camp closed in June in the fallout from the Jan. 6 death of a 14-year-old boy who was roughed up by guards at another camp. In May, Gov. Jeb Bush signed a law requiring conversion of military-like boot camps to programs that prohibit physical contact.