Juvenile delinquency is a controversial topic to write about. Opinions about juvenile delinquency and how to handle juvenile offenders are highly polarized. The American criminal justice system is known for its punitive approach to crime, which recent research and proponents of restorative justice articulate is not helpful and only makes the problem of crime worse. Juvenile delinquency sits at the center of this argument. Juvenile delinquency is a child’s—aged 10 to 17—in behavior or activities that are considered unacceptable in society or are illegall.4 Juvenile delinquency is often marked by persistent antisocial and mischievous behavior.4 Juvenile delinquency rose to become a social issue in the 1980s when arrests of children aged 10 to 17 was high.3 There have been a variety of approaches to juvenile delinquency, one of these is juvenile boot camps. Juvenile boot camp was established as a response to the rise in juvenile delinquency in the 1980s, and continues to be around until today. Opinions and research concerning juvenile boot camps are, like opinions about juvenile delinquency, polarized. In this term paper, I will expound on the pros and cons of juvenile delinquency after defining it and exploring its history. At the conclusion of this essay, I will explain why I stand with those against juvenile boot camps.
Juvenile Boot Camps
What are boot camps and how do they work?
Juvenile boot camps are a cross between shock incarceration intervention and residential placement. In a juvenile boot camp, juvenile offenders are brought into quasi-military boot camps which are geared toward discipline and hard physical labor.1 There is no one format for the drills and exercises in juvenile boot camps, but the most common characteristics include a focus in “physical training, drill, ceremony, courtesy, and strict discipline”1. This may also include group counselling sessions and substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs. 1 However, Williams found that since there is no government mandated curriculum or format for boot camps, counselling and substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs are not always available.6 Boot camps use traditional militaristic approaches to teach juveniles how to control themselves and behave in a way that is acceptable in society.
As mentioned earlier, there is no consistent format for boot camps. However, all follow a militaristic approach and are programmed to last between 90 to 180 days. Exercises and activities in a juvenile boot camp typically include “physical training, military drilling, ceremony exercises, classes, group counselling sessions, and substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs”.1 Juveniles wear military-like uniforms and are grouped into platoons supervised by a drill sergeant. Consistent with military training, boot camps are also known to assign immediate physical punishments to anyone who disobeys or exhibits disrespectful behavior.5 All these are believed to instill discipline and respect among juveniles to make them more amenable to rules and laws afterward.
What is the history behind boot camps?
Meade and Meade reports that juvenile correctional facilities that adhere to a quasi-military structure have been around for a long time, but boot camps became a formal element of the criminal justice system in the 1980s.5 Juvenile boot camps were a response to the rising number of juvenile arrests from the 60s and 70s,5 which saw a continued upward trend through the 80s and 90s. From 6396.6 per 100,000 in the 1980s juvenile arrests piqued to 8476.2 per 100,000 in the 1990s.3 Since then, the number of arrests has been on decline, though it is still at 2083.1 per 100,0007.3 Juvenile boot camps were a response to the high arrest rates as well as to the realization that punishment does not effectively deter juvenile delinquency.
Shortly after the establishment of juvenile boot camps as alternative to imprisonment, camps also started including substance-abuse treatment or education in the late 1980s.5 This gave rise to the so-called “second generation boot camps” that included treatment-oriented programs as opposed to the purely militaristic approach of the “first generation boot camps.”5 With this, boot camps became recognized as a middle-ground between punitive and restorative justice.
Pros and Cons of Juvenile Boot Camps
In this section, I shall discuss the pros and cons of juvenile boot camps. The pros of juvenile boot camps are anchored on the idea that it is a milder sanction than sending children to prison. As it appears, this program is an attempt at bringing restorative justice near the punitive attitude of Americans toward crime. In contrast, the cons show that juvenile boot camps continue to exist not because of their inherent effectiveness at deterring juvenile delinquency and recidivism but merely on their popularity among the masses.
What are the advantages of juvenile boot camps?
The main advantage of juvenile boot camps is that they are a milder sanction for juvenile delinquency. Its focus is not on isolating the offenders to keep society safer, as is the goal of prisons and correctional facilities, but to isolate in order to form and rehabilitate juveniles. Isolating juveniles from the environment where they learned criminal behavior allows them to shed learned negative behavior and absorb positive ones. This brings juvenile boot camps closer to restorative justice as it focuses on the formation and rehabilitation of juveniles.
Juvenile boot camps implement a strict, militaristic approach that does not just focus on keeping them docile, but focuses in forming juveniles into good citizens. At juvenile boot camps, juveniles are not kept idle. They follow a detailed schedule of activities every day that includes “physical training, military drilling, ceremony exercises, classes, group counselling sessions, and substance and alcohol abuse treatment programs.”1 Furthermore, boot camp sergeants reinforce positive behaviors while punishing negative ones. With these activities, juveniles are expected to learn prosocial behaviors that will help keep them in the “right” path after they finish the program.
Juvenile boot camps may also offer more holistic rehabilitation, especially when compared with correctional facilities. Whereas correctional facilities only have educational and counselling programs as additional programs to help prevent recidivism, juvenile boot camps have rehabilitation and prevention of recidivism at its foundation. Some juvenile boot camps offer group counselling sessions and treatment programs that address the root cause of antisocial or criminal behavior in the children. Moreover, other juvenile boot camps dwell on character development and educational achievement, according to Williams.6 Combined with discipline, these strategies are effective at changing the attitude of young delinquents.
What are the disadvanatges of juvenile boot camps?
The major disadvantages of juvenile boot camps lie in the lack of consistent curriculum and format. As boot camps are mostly run by private entities, and states do not mandate standards or a curriculum, approaches and structures of boot camps differ greatly.6 Thus, results are not uniform, with some having positive impact, while others potentially worsening recidivism.
Of note, is that not all juvenile boot camps include character development, group counselling programs, and treatment programs, which means that there is a lack of emotional feedback and juveniles are not taught to practice internal control.1 Furthermore, boot camps who do not offer counselling and treatment programs fail to address mental health problems that coalesce with other issues. Such boot camps, thus, do not have a positive impact on recidivism.1 Historical research shows that boot camps either do not make a difference on recidivism or contribute to higher recidivism rates. On the contrary, juveniles may come out of these boot camps with lower self-esteem and emphasized toxic masculinity.1
Another major disadvantage is that juvenile boot camps are characterized by extreme punishments that include verbal abuse and harsh physical labor. In extreme cases, extreme physical labor has led to deaths or serious injuries.6 Another case of abuse comes from older participants who bully younger ones.6 These abuses only serve to compound the issues that brought the kids to a juvenile boot camp.
The short period of the programs also does not serve to be of help to juveniles. Gültekin and Gültekin, cite studies that show that 90 to 180 days is insufficient to change the lives and attitudes of juveniles, and a longer boot camp program may be necessary to instill lasting positive change.6 With the short period, juvenile boot camps are likely another thing for juveniles to endure until they can return to their previous life where they can commit additional crime.2 As such, juvenile boot camps are unable to make lasting positive change nor positively influence recidivism.
The pros and cons outlined in the preceding section demonstrates that while juvenile boot camps are better than correctional facilities and prisons, it still is not an effective deterrent to juvenile delinquency. For this reason, the author of this expository essay stands against juvenile boot camps. Juvenile boot camps fall short as a tool of restorative justice due to its focus on strict discipline and physical exercises and lack of emotional and mental support. While juvenile boot camps place juveniles in a new environment, it does not have a lasting effect that will fundamentally improve the lives of juveniles. There are other rehabilitative and formative programs that have been developed that show better potential, such as functional family therapy that addresses the key risk factors of each individual and works toward holistic rehabilitation. So, although juvenile boot camps are popular among Americans, its continuous presence needs to be examined, and myths powered by misinformation in the US debunked, in order to make way for more comprehensive and effective programs for juveniles.
1. Gültekin, Kubra and Sebahattin Gültekin. (2012). “Is Juvenile Boot Camp Policy Effective?” International Journal of Human Sciences, 9, no. 1 (2012): 726-740. 10.14687/ijhs/v9i1.1978
2. Henggeler, Scott W. and Soja K. Schoenwald. “Evidence-based Interventions for Juvenile Offenders and Juvenile Justice Policies that Support Them.” Social Policy Report, 25, no. 1 (2011): 3-16. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0047235210001315
3. “Juvenile Arrest Rate Trends,” OJJDP Statistical Briefing Book, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, last modified November 16, 2020, https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/JAR_Display.asp?ID=qa05200&selOffenses=1
4. “Juvenile Delinquency,” Legal Dictionary, last modified August 23, 2015, https://legaldictionary.net/juvenile-delinquency/
5. Meade, Benjamin and Benjamin Steiner. “The Total Effects of Boot Camps That House Juveniles: A Systematic Review of the Evidence.” Journal of Criminal Justice 58, issue 5 (September – October 2010): 841-853. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcrimjus.2010.06.007
6. Williams, Gregory Tyrone. “The Effectiveness of Juvenile Boot Camps And Their Impact On Minority Youth.” PhD diss., National Louis University, 2016. https://digitalcommons.nl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1168&context=diss