Harris County may scrap rigorous physical training and rigid military-style drills at its Delta Boot Camp in favor of a program that uses therapy to attack the emotional and behavioral problems that led the young people into crime, officials said Wednesday.
The county opened a juvenile boot camp in 1994 to offer chronic young offenders one last chance to shape up before they would be shipped off to do hard time at a Texas Youth Commission facility. Officials hoped the facility’s strong emphasis on military structure, drill and discipline would help the 14- to 16-year-old residents change from trouble-making boys into responsible men.
But Harris County Juvenile Probation chief Harvey Hetzel said Wednesday that research since has shown that young offenders are more likely to respond to counseling and education than to discipline alone.
“Our program’s weakness has always been the absence of a therapeutic component,” Hetzel said.
As seemingly with much of American criminal justice policy at the moment, this move arises from a pendelum finally swinging back from an era of too-harsh extremes:
Juvenile boot camps sprang up across the country in the early 1990s amid a national push to get tough on crime.
However, studies soon showed the facilities did not improve recidivsm rates for youths and in some cases were detrimental to young people who had experienced violence and abuse at home, said Gaylene Armstrong, an associate professor of criminal justice at Sam Houston State University who has studied juvenile boot camps extensively.
Treating juvenile offenders’ problems with substance abuse, mental illness and anger management, or even just offering them a basic education, was found to be more beneficial than having them run laps and do push-ups, Armstrong said.
“Even though from a public perspective, maybe some people would say, ‘These people did something bad, let’s really punish them,’ in the long term that’s not going to do much for us as a society because they’re going to end up back in the community and their problems aren’t going to be addressed,” she said.
See related Grits posts: