What Are the Pros and Cons of Juvenile Boot Camps?

Written by lisa magloff
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What Are the Pros and Cons of Juvenile Boot Camps?
Juvenile boot camps are generally run using military principles of discipline. (Siri Stafford/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Parents with troubled teens sometimes turn to boot camps to help their children. Juvenile boot camps are styled after military training camps and are designed to instil discipline and structure in young people. This is usually accomplished through the use of military-style discipline, strenuous physical activity and challenges that help teach self-reliance and confidence. However, these camps have also come under criticism for being too harsh and not addressing juveniles' underlying psychological problems.

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Pro: Discipline

Boot camps require juveniles to stick to a schedule, get up early, refrain from bad behaviours, such as smoking and drinking, and perform strenuous physical exercise. All of this builds discipline and can help juveniles develop positive behaviours -- such as working hard and being respectful. Boot camps that are intended for long-term residents will also include instruction, which can help instil good study and attendance habits in juveniles who are failing in school.

Pro: Confidence

The high expectations of boot camp can help troubled juveniles develop a sense of confidence in their abilities. After getting through a tough march or several nights of sleeping outside, making your own shelter and cooking your own food, many juveniles realise that they are capable of achieving a great deal. Boot camps often include group exercises, and these can help teach trust, cooperation and resourcefulness.

Con: Brutality

One major criticism of juvenile boot camps is that they can be brutal. There have been several cases of teen deaths after being treated roughly at boot camp. A 2007 Congressional report found that several boot camps, where teens died under their care, were negligent and reckless in their use of brutality. All of Florida's boot camps for juvenile offenders were shut down following the death of a 14-year-old boy at one camp. Counsellors and guards at boot camps also routinely yell at or strike juveniles in their care, and deaths have been caused when camp counsellors ignored juveniles' medical conditions.

Con: Long-term Issues

Boot camps focus on instilling discipline and correcting bad behaviour. While this may work in a number of cases, juveniles whose behaviour may be caused by more deep-seated problems, such as being the victim of abuse or psychological conditions, may not be helped by this approach. A National Institute of Justice report also found that boot camps rarely focus on transitioning juveniles back to society, and the rigid program structure does not allow the flexibility to deal with juveniles as individuals.

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