What are boot camps for juvenile offenders?

Written by kevin fobbs
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What are boot camps for juvenile offenders?
Military-type exercises are typically part of daily bootcamp schedule. (Mike Powell/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Boot camps for juvenile offenders have been used in court systems across the country as a rehabilitation option to help juveniles who have engaged in violent, often destructive or at-risk behaviour. There are various types of boot camps, ranging from public boot camps connected to the juvenile justice system to privately run camps and short- and long-term camps. Usually, the potential boot camp attendee has the option to either attend boot camp or do time in jail, or other type of lengthy incarceration institution.


Giving borderline juvenile offenders a choice between a long-term stint in jail and a boot camp experience is one primary goal of the legal system. Saving prison bed space is another goal as well. The purpose of intense military-style training methods as a rehabilitative method is to teach juveniles accountability and disciplined behaviour. The juvenile is exposed to intense military exercises as well as challenging physical training daily. The goal is to return them to their respective communities with an improved attitude toward their behaviour and conduct.

Boot Camp Differences

Both short- and long-term facilities provide strict disciplinary measures that will expose the juvenile to military-like expectations regarding duties, responsibilities and obedience. Short-term boot camp programs are focused on the less-hardened juvenile delinquent behaviour and less violent conduct. Their goal is to "scare straight" the misbehaving youth, as a way of turning his bad conduct around. On the other hand, the longer-term boot camp is targeted for the openly defiant juvenile who has formed his destructive behaviours over a longer period of time and needs this intense longer experience to change destructive attitudes and behaviours, according to the website Boot Camp For Troubled Teens.

Effect of Boot Camps

The impact of a boot camp experience on the attendees depends on the type of boot camp as well as the length of stay and how long the behavioural change lasts. For instance, short-term benefits in some state programs showed an improvement in one grade level or little improvement. In addition, some participants reported positive short-term changes in attitudes and behaviours and also had better problem-solving and coping skills, according to the website Crime and Justice. There was some cost savings, too, because boot camps lead to fewer prison beds used, and a small corresponding reduction in prison populations.

Boot Camp Alternatives

Boot camps have had some measurable effect on the conduct and negative behaviour of juveniles who have attended the camps. Yet, a more individualised and community-based programming approach may be more effective and cost the legal system less money. If one of the primary goals is to assist the juvenile offender in feeling less marginalised, and isolated, a localised exposure to a more comprehensive menu of mental health, rehabilitative, substance-abuse and anger-management counselling may prove a more beneficial alternative.

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