So when I read in the Waco Tribune Herald recently that a local juvenile judge wanted to send misdemeanants to "private facilities such as boot camps," I was under the impression that the reference was sending youth to private, contract "boot camp" facilities like the ones under fire in Congress. But I was told today by someone who should know that none of these private facilities operate in Texas. However, of the 32 county-operated post-adjudication detention facilities in Texas ten of them are registered with the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission as "Boot Camps," collectively housing just over 500 kids.
These appear to be boot camps modeled on similar approaches to those described in the GAO report. For example, the Harris County boot camp offers an "adventure based treatment program," which sounds similar in type to the "wilderness" programs criticized by GAO. (Or perhaps the reference is to what an adventure it is to sleep on the floor with a room full of miltiarized juvenile delinquents; see their sleeping quarters at left.)
Here is the complete list and latest reports from these boot camps. I can't tell what period they cover, but the linked reports show wide variances in the number of physical and mechanical restraints at the different facilities that might indicate problems like those described by GAO that merit further investigation:
- Amador R. Rodriguez Boot Camp and Eductional Cente (Cameron)
- Texas Adjudicated Placement Services (Dimmitt)
- El Paso County Juvenile Probation Department
- Cooke, Fannin & Grayson County Juvenile Boot Camp (Grayson)
- Harris County Delta Boot Camp (in Katy)
- Hays County Juvenile Center
- Hidalgo County Juvenile Boot Camp
- Bill Logue Juvenile Justice Center (McLennan)
- Ever Change Academy (Medina)
- Robert N. Barnes Regional Juvenile Facility (Nueces)
found thousands of allegations of abuse, some of which involved death, at residential treatment programs across the country and in American-owned and American-operated facilities abroad between the years 1990 and 2007.None of the case studies in GAO's report specifically discussed any Texas program (though a Texas youth who died in a Utah wilderness program was one of the case studies), but the concerns raised addressed "programs across the country referring to themselves as wilderness therapy programs, boot camps, and academies, among other names," both publicly and privately operated. (TYC's Victory Field might be another facility that falls into that category.) Here are a few more pictures from the facilities. From El Paso:
Allegations included reports of abuse and death recorded by state agencies and the Department of Health and Human Services, allegations detailed in pending civil and criminal trials with hundreds of plaintiffs, and claims of abuse and death that were posted on the Internet. For example, during 2005 alone, 33 states reported 1,619 staff members involved in incidents of abuse in residential programs. GAO could not identify a more concrete number of allegations because it could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, or other entity that collects comprehensive nationwide data.
GAO also examined, in greater detail, 10 closed civil or criminal cases from 1990 through 2004 where a teenager died while enrolled in a private program.
GAO found significant evidence of ineffective management in most of the 10 cases, with program leaders neglecting the needs of program participants and staff. This ineffective management compounded the negative consequences of (and sometimes directly resulted in) the hiring of untrained staff; a lack of adequate nourishment; and reckless or negligent operating practices, including a lack of adequate equipment. These factors played a significant role in the deaths GAO examined.
Sleeping quarters in McLennan:
Dimmitt County, girls dorm:
UPDATE: A commenter made the assertion that boot camps "increase" recidivism, so I did a quick Google search to check that claim and ran across corroboration in this 1998 report (pdf) from the National Institute of Justice listing "boot camp" approaches among "What Doesn't Work," declaring that correctional boot camps "fail to reduce repeat offending after release compared to having similar offenders serve time on probation or parole, both for adults and juveniles." According to Maia Szalavitz at the Huffington Post, "One study even found that boot camp participants did significantly worse than their incarcerated counterparts--with 50% of former inmates being re-arrested while a whopping 72% of boot camp participants were."
It doesn't surprise me, I guess, that some Texas counties are embracing strategies proven ten years ago to increase crime, but maybe with everything that's going on in Texas juvenile corrections, it's time to rethink this approach.