Thursday, October 25, 2007

Juvenile 'Boot Camps' in Texas

I've been reading through the Government Accounting Office's latest report (pdf) on juvenile "boot camps," which finds three common themes in their analysis of 15 deaths at boot camp facilities: Untrained staff, lack of adequate nourishment, and "reckless or negligent operating practices"

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:
I've no firsthand knowledge of what type of programming goes on at these facilities, I was just interested to learn of this Texas subset of juvenile "boot camps" at a time when the national spotlight has been focused on this genre of juvenile justice. See the recent Government Accountability Office report on boot camps, which:
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.

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.
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:

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.


Anonymous said...

Why is it that county and state governments don't get it. They continually ignore the evidence that boot camps don't reduce recidivism but instead, actually increase it. Damn fools!

Anonymous said...

County and State Governments continually igonore evidence of innocence also.

Government officials need the benefit of current research most of all. They are probably even more in need of education than the general public. They are unfortunately less likely to get it.

I am thrilled that Grits makes information available in one place for easy access by anyone!

Anonymous said...

Victory Field is NOT a bootcamp. The staff and youth wear uniforms BUT that is the only difference between this facility and every other TYC facility in the state except Sheffield. They run an identical program under identical policies and guidelines as every other facility. They share the same current problems as every other TYC facility; DaPope won't tell them what those programs or policies are!! They to have been pontificated by DaPope.

Anonymous said...

A long time friend of mine just died at age 68. He went to a "Military Academy" as a teenager. The experience effectively ruined his life.

I cannot imagine how a State run, punative "Boot Camp" could possibly do anyone any good.

The juvenile justice system can and does destroy lives of everyone involved. Surely we can do better!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I wrote about the problem with boot camps generally on my blog is August of 2006.

Boot camps originated in the south in states like Texas, Georgia, Missippi, Arkansas, Florida, and Oklahoma, and Alabama.

What we 'ave 'ere is a failure to cum-muni-cate !!!

Boot camps are perceived to be "popular" with the general public. They make the meaner, meaner and the tougher, tougher, but they don't help the drug addict with treatment, the mentally ill cope with mental problems, and they don't teach them how to read or how to get a good job. They are a failure as far as recidivism goes. Check out all the studies.

When people here the term boot camp they think of the military and the people who voluntarily joing the service to serve their country honorably and proudly. They don't think --- involuntary servitude, slavery, exteme authoritarianism and brutality, barbarism, and extremism run rampant. It does make 'em mean, tough, and a more disciplined criminal since recidivism is predictable according to all the studies.


Boot camps were banned in Florida on June 1, 2005 through legislation signed by Florida Governor Jeb Bush after 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson was murdered by drill instructors who forcibly inserted ammonia tablets into his nose. Anderson attended Bay County Boot Camp in Panama City, Florida. After the mid-1990s, the number of boot camps declined. By 2000, nearly one-third of State prison boot camps had closed--only 51 camps remained. (See: NIJ study below.) The average daily population in State boot camps also dropped more than 30 percent.
The National Institute of Justice conducted a 10 year long study of boot camps and their report dated 2003
is available at the web site: http: // www. or: www.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) sponsored an analysis of researchconducted over a 10-year period beginning in the late 1980s. This analysisconcluded that [See above link for the report dated (2003)] - it concluded:Mixed Results

Other countries have been closely watching the boot camp system in the US but so far have been slow to copy it, if at all. In Canada and Europe many see US society as highly militarised for which the military style boot camps are just another example. After having shed a very militaristic past, Europeans tend to be quite wary of military influence in civil society. As well, the tactics employed in most boot camps are considered to infringe on the human rights of the affected and to be rather totalitarian. Therefore in Canada participation in boot camp programmes are voluntary, so as to avoid any challenges under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under which treatment at boot camps could be seen as an infringement on a youth's right to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment and to ensure security of person. Canada started a boot camp project for non-violent juveniles with subtle but distinct differences from the American models. The first one was opened in 1997 in Ontario. Unlike in the US system it is not possible to trade or shorten a jail sentence with a significantly shorter boot camp programme. Canadian boot camps do not have the time frame of 90 to 180 days and they are restricted to juveniles up to the age of 17 and not yet open for female offenders. The judges do not directly possess the authority to send a youth to a boot camp. They may impose a sentence of secure or open custody. The latter is defined as, "a community residential centre, group home, child care institution or forest or wilderness camp . . .". Once an open custody sentence is granted, a correctional official decides whether a sentence is served in a boot camp programme. But the ultimate decision rests with the young person and the decision is made purely on the merits of the programme because the time served remains the same.
The Canadian system is too young to show any comparable results but research has been done among US boot camps with different emphasises, e. g. more on drug treatment or education than solely on military drill. According to the findings treatment has a slightly positive impact on the reduction of recidivism over strict discipline.
However, altogether there are no research findings in favour of boot camps in light of any of the initial intentions. Recidivism rates in the US among former prison inmates and boot camp participants are roughly the same. Yet, the effects of boot camps are controversially disputed, some surveys claiming lower re-offence rates, others showing no change as compared to persons serving normal time. Surveys also show different results concerning the reduction of costs. Critics add, that the emphasis on authority can only result in frustration, resentment, anger, short temper, a low self-esteem and aggression rather than respect.

Anonymous said...


Great post.

In my own research on the history of juvenile justice and corrections, I've found military features appearing as far back as the 1910s.

During that decade, many American states embraced the idea of "training schools" for juvenile delinquents, as a replacement for reformatories and houses of correction, which dated back to the 1830s and 40s.

Unlike those earlier models, training schools were supposed to bring scientific ideas about education and adolescent development to bear on the project of rehabilitating, rather than simply punishing or incarcerating, juveniles.

For the first time, training schools began to offer programs of vocational and academic education, although many of these programs did not even remotely live up to their public billing.

In Texas, the Gatesville State Juvenile Training School inaugurated a military-style program. Boys were divided into "companies" with drill sergeants, and "cadet captains" specially selected from among the boys as deputies. The boys marched and drilled regularly, sometimes for local public audiences.

When the US entered World War I, the military program was seen as a way to prepare juvenile delinquents for actual military service.

The belief was that military discipline built character and contributed to rehabilitation.

This all began to break down in 1921 when a drill master was convicted of murdering a 15 year old boy from Beaumont for refusing to drill. The boy was strangled to death in front of 2 other boys, while the drill master taunted him about "feeling himself slipping."

The trial and resulting scandal over this episode resulted in the removal of the Gatesville superintendent, who had close political ties to the Ferguson machine and through them got reinstated a few years later.

Some of the stories coming out of "boot camps" in the 1990s differ very little from this horror tale, and suggest that military discipline has too often been viewed as a panacea, a quick-fix solution, for delinquency.

It's important to remember that these facilities are not actual military. They aren't subject to the same rules and codes, and, as the US Congress just discovered last week, have escaped any meaningful public oversight for years, which has allowed all manner of abuse and brutality to flourish under cover of "discipline."

Adults in camouflage who lose their cool and abuse kids aren't modeling discipline, but its exact opposite. It's one of the worst forms of hypocrisy and has nothing to do with the "values" such facilities purport to represent, IMO.

Bill Bush

Anonymous said...

I have witnessed family in a private bootcamp in Texas. Once when I was visiting, there was a constant knocking sound during the whole visit. My family member said a child was beating his head against the wall in lockdown. It totally unnerved me. It is a sad state of affairs when we call this justice.

Anonymous said...

A) Scott, this needs to be added to the TYC string.

B) I think boot camps could work if juveniles were carefully selected (e.g. good health plus oppositional defiant disorder as the only diagnosis); "washing out" be a decision that it is not the right place for that juvenile, not a penalty; move to a regular program after 45-60 days (like military to advanced infantry after a period of so many weeks); and, of course, fully vetted and carefully supervised staff who's interest is in turning out functional young adults, not meeting their own perverted needs for control and dominance. (wait a minute... right kids, right staff...hmmmm...that applies to any bad, no room for that in TDCJjr)

Anonymous said...

This is no surprise. Judge Mayfield is a moron of the highest order.

Anonymous said...

When Victory Field was first opened, it was patterned in a military mode. Marching, cadence, uniforms, etc. It had a specific program for the kids to come work through that did not have violent offenses. Once Resocialization changed all that, kids of all types of offences go there. They have kept the uniforms, but pretty much follow the same schedules the other facilities do.

Anonymous said...

I have my own story as many do about Victory Field Correctional Academy this is an isolated facility and has many violations as the Coke County in which was shut down for manyviolations
VFCA has ignored to report to TYC,CPS and Authorities the Abuse,Rape and the Mistreatment of our children.
The Ombudsman has reported to TYC-Executive DirectorDaPope to SHUT DOWN (VFCA)due to his findings in the report,DaPope is ignoring to cooperate.Where is the JUSTICE in this!
Look up the VFCA article in the Dallas newspaper Oct.17/18,2007 published Oct.28/29,2007.

Nick said...

Wow, was just looking for a picture for a post on my blog concerning my own experience in boot camp when I ran across this impressive tome of a blog.

I attended the boot camp that was just outside Houston in 1996 and witnessed many inhumane practices.

I'd love to provide you with an account of it all just as soon as I finish up the second part of my own post. My post is more of a humorous replay of the utter stupidity I displayed in earning my trip there.
I hadn't planned on describing the filth I witnessed. I'll be linking back to your site. Thanks for the pic!

Anonymous said...


DrillDaddy187 said...

First off I would like to correct Anonymous in reference to the statement about Mexicans. If you refer to the Latino residence that are facilitated in a program you would much rather call them Hispanics or Latin Americans. Calling them Mexican would place them in the status of an individual who is from Mexico. How can you call a facility “Racist”, after making a comment like that? About a situation you have no factual evidence on. It has been my “Experience” in working in a residential facility or Boot Camp as you have called it, that many of the youth offenders who are adjudicated to them make up plenty of stories about the facility just to give it a bad wrap or make it sound like it was such a traumatic experience. When the fact of the matter was that the individual was training in area such as; Life skills, Drug addiction, mental health, job training, and the list goes on and on. Just because your friend told you that he was mistreated or belittled does not make it so. There are plenty of state and government laws that combat negative work ethic of this manner and I for one have training in every one, I am required by the stated to have the required number of hours of training before I step foot on facility soil, and should I fall short of that would not be allowed to enter or even allowed access to the area. Where I can agree that some individuals commit actions of misconduct, I can also assure that these individuals do not make it pass the training phase. Working with the youth offender is a very difficult occupation to commit to. If you do not play your cards right you could end up in the same situation they are in. Many people do not realize this and they are the ones who do not last.

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Amanda said...

I went to a teen boot camp located in Aubrey, Texas called Get Motivated Boot Camp. At first, it was really hard and I hated it. As time went on and I was in this program for longer, I started to kind of enjoy it. The program really changed my life and how I act. Some people change at a slower pace than others, but the program is well worth it and it really works. You can see a big change in all of the teens that are sent here and it is a wonderful program. For more information, call (940) 365-1818, or visit the web site Again, if you are having trouble with your teens, this program is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

I believe that these programs are horrible for a child being bipolar and adhd , and the courts overlook , or ignore these disabilties , these are chemical disabilities that can't be corrected with abuse nor mentally challenging them , its a condition just like diabetes that needs medicine and counceling, but its about money ,one county pays another for transfer so in a nut shell human trafficking , you can't cure chemical imbalance with this option ,and there only security is there family ,to take them many hours away from this and have them indure this ,is not the answer , its only there answer at the time

Anonymous said...

Exactly, my son is bipolar and it took 16 years to figure this out , they have a guy whom works for tha court call me and say he's got conduct disorder, I laughed he is far from violent and carries not one of there symtoms for that disorder ,I said how long did you spend with him ,his answer 25 mins ,oh really took us 16 yrs first being dignost with adhd .the Payed employee from the court can just change it with a 20 min evaluation, he's been there 5 weeks over a misdemeanor, suicide watch second time , they refuse to bring him to doctor cause being locked up its on there dime ,lastnight I get a call he's saying mom ,mom please I need a doctor and my meds , I'm going to hang myself and if I can't do that ,ill jump up and dive my head into the floor ,I'm losing my mind ,why won't they let me get my meds back , I felt so hopeless,called everyone ,bhc won't take him while in custody , they have lost there mind cost they 90 a day at juvi, up too 107 a day boot camp , which I'm against ,taking him 9 hours away from family , all this over a probation revoke with a illegal school suspension ,which idea is working on investigating now , let him leave with a monitor on ,so he can get proper medical care , boot camp behavior modification, for bipolar is a punishment for a chemical imbalance ,you can't change this ,with an ass kicking . I wonder if diabetes can be cured with way as well .he lives this everyday and being locked up ,no medicine ,baby due in 8 weeks , the answer take him away ,miss his sons birth ,girlfriend no contact under all this stress and can't get proper medical care , I will call disability in morning and pray they have some pull to atleast get him level on meds ,till then I sit up worried if my son is ok ,