Teen boot camps are heading towards extinction after what has been described as a treatment experiment gone wrong.
Corrections expert Dr. Edward Latessa has studied the issue extensively and says most boot camp operators have either gone out of business or modified their programs to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation.
Latessa, a juvenile justice expert at the University of Cincinnati, says teen boot camps fail because they focus on things like discipline, physical conditioning, and bonding with other offenders rather than on problem behaviour and attitudes that got teens in trouble in the first place.
“What are they teaching you in boot camp? Drills, ceremony, discipline, how to say yes sir, no sir. Well, the problem is that’s not related to delinquent behaviour. Getting you in good shape just means you’ll be able to kick someone’s ass quicker.”
Latessa says the problem with teen boot camps wasn’t that they were all poorly run – because some were run well – but that they were completely ineffective at helping youth develop coping skills they could use back in the real world.
Latessa says good residential treatment programs for troubled teens focus on the behaviours and attitudes related to delinquent or problem behaviour and help youth learn and practice skills they can use with their family and peers back home. Troubled teens learn applicable life skills like how to get out of risky situations, how to stay away from negative peers, and how to be assertive with friends who may lead them astray.
“If teens practice these skills then they have the ability to deal with situations when they get into them,“ he said. “Good programs teach those things and they do it in a way that it is modeled, practiced, and reinforced.”