Friday, January 30, 2009

Harris may shift juvie 'boot camp' to treatment model

Juvenile justice researchers have known for a while now that juvenile "boot camps" don't reduce recidivism and create needless risks for youth, which is why I'm pleased to read this news ("Harris youth boot camp to replace drills with therapy," Jan. 28):

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:


Anonymous said...

Grits, allow me to express some frustration here with the "experts" who just discovered in the 1990s and 2000s that hard labor and military discipline don't work.

These "techniques" were introduced in the 1910s and didn't work then either.

On the one hand, I'm happy that the wheel has been reinvented for like the 20th time, at least it may lead to some material improvement for some youth.

Gritting my teeth and sighing,
Bill Bush

Gritsforbreakfast said...

That really is frustrating, Bill, I had no idea. If you want, why don't you pull some historical "why boot camps don't work" quotes from some of those old research works and we'll post them as a separate blog item.

Even if Harris switches its approach, there are still quite a few other boot camps around Texas, all county run.

Anonymous said...

There is absolutely nothing wrong with discipline and physical activity. You can incorporate counseling and behavior modification while at the same time maintaining a military type program.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Nobody said there's anything wrong with "discipline and physical activity." However, serious concerns have been raised about military style boot camps as a correctional model.

Exercise is fine. Discipline is fine. But the Government Accountability Office, for example, is worried about "abuse and death" (pdf) at boot camps, which is a different kettle of fish.

Also recidivism rates are much higher: "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."

So to sum up: Exercise and discipline are good, they just don't have anything to do with the point at hand. "Abuse," "death," and high recidivism rates are the problems associated with boot camps.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this idea and Sheldon about past TYC abuses. Anything is better than sending youth to TYC. TYC has only made youth worse, with their mishandeling them and abusing these troubled youth. Abused youth only learn to pass the abuse to othjers, which multiplies the problems, just as TYC always does. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

So the therapeutic models of TYC have produced better results?

Anonymous said...

Anyone would have to thoroughly search to find any real help that TYC has provided to youth in their care. Administrators say they make positive results, however, where can anyone actually show any meaningful therapy has been given to TYC wards? Its just the opposite - abuse widespread in all facilities operated by this awkward commission.

Anonymous said...

Given that the youths sent to TYC represent the worst 3% of those adjudicated for crimes, and given that the recidivism rate for these youths in pre-TYC programs was 100%, a 50% recidivism rate post-TYC doesn't look so bad.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

7:00 - It's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison because Harris' boot camp is the equivalent of a county detention center and has a different class of offenders than TYC.

I don't know the recidivism rate for the Harris boot camp, but if it's even close to the 72% cited at the link above, then the answer would be "yes," worse than the therapeutic models at TYC.

That said, TYC's comparable rates of re-offense are poor, and recidivism for Missouri-model-style facilities is much lower. According to this source: "Last year, 7.3 percent of teen offenders released from Missouri's youth facilities were recommitted to juvenile centers for new offenses. Texas, which spends about 20 percent more to keep a child in juvenile corrections, has a recidivism rate that tops 50 percent."

7:37 - your comment about "abuse widespread in all facilities" at TYC is pure BS. The agency has its problems, but that comment is pure smear with no substance.

Anonymous said...

Oh, quit with the "widespread abuse" canards already.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Scott.

Anonymous said...

Now that the County level 5facilities (Harris BC)are receiving the misdemeanor/MH clients that were once in TYC do you expect the same level of recidivism? TYC was estimated to receive $135 per day per youth. L5 facilities receive $90. Does $ equate to better therapeutic communities? The TYC bloggers have stated those were the hardest clients to work with. So the State has been able to provide less resources, require more through standards and create an expectation of WHAT? Less recidivism, better students returned to our schools, participants in our community? Some day maybe someone will outline what they want out of juvenile justice professionals not mask expectations. Boot camps help some kids, therapeutic communities help some kids, psych placements help some kids, probation helps some kids, even letting kids mature without intervention helps some kids. I wish Harris County's facility luck and much success "just helping kids!"

Anonymous said...

GREAT forward thinking Mr. Hetzel. This peogram should work well without the military style component.

Anonymous said...

"7:37 - your comment about "abuse widespread in all facilities" at TYC is pure BS. The agency has its problems, but that comment is pure smear with no substance."

A thousand thanks, Scott.

Anonymous said...

"Widespread abuse in TYC"...if you prefer to keep your head in the sand, you're part of the overall problem. Continue to live in your small dream world.

Anonymous said...

Boot Camps can be a very positive experience for young males. We just had a male juvenile return from Grayson County and he had nothing but positive things to say about the program. In fact, he now has a stong desire to join the military and we are doing everything in our power to make that happen.

Has there been abuse in boot camps? Sure, but there is abuse everywhere. People are responsible for abuse, not programs. For every one example of abuse at a boot camp, I will give you ten examples of a child getting sexually assaulted by their school teacher, but noone is screaming to close the schools.

As far as the argument of recidivism in boot camps being higher than other programs, that is a misleading argument. The juvenile that is court ordered into a boot camp is not the same kid that goes to a non-secure facility or in-patient drug treatment. You are comparing apples to oranges. That is like saying kids on Deferred Adjudication have a lower recidivism than those in TYC; therefore, we should place all kids on Deferred.

Anonymous said...

I may be totally wrong (have been in the past, likely to be in the future); that said, I would like to suggest that there may a place for boot camps, just like there may be need drug treatment, anger management etc. But as the PACT assessments have noted for nearly 20 years, the wrong treatment makes things worse. Too often, a "great new" (and cheaper) program comes along with initial great results, so legislators jump on it. Trouble may be either Hawthorne effect or that the initial group was carefully evaluated and hand picked for the program. Lumping all delinquent youth into the same group means most will not get the treatment they need. I would suggest that an answer may be to beef up the quality of assessment at MART, make it the very best in the world at really assessing needs and treatments. Might even get grant money and provide internships for students at A&M's forensic psych program and similar resources at UT, and Tech. With Chuck Jeffords back at Research, Texas could step and be the leader in juvenile care. It is also likely to be less expensive doing it right the first time than paying the ongoing cost of recidivism.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

11:18 - you're either misreading or misrepresenting what's been said. The recidivism comparison with boot camps was not with any "non-secure facility or in-patient drug treatment," it was with TYC's youth prison recidivism numbers.

Anonymous said...

11:18. Glad to hear of your satisfaction with Grayson County. It is always good to hear the success stories. I am sure there are many others. My experience is that more good things than bad are happening in juvenile justice.

However many past posts on this blog have requested Grayson County specifically, as well as other county facilities, provide INDEPENDENT results of any studies of their success/failure. They have been in business several years now. Surely someone has done some independent study of their success/failure. I assume they are funded mostly with Level V, TJPC provided, public dollars. Grayson County on the TJPC web site is registered for 57 kids. This should be around $1,800,000 of public dollars received per year. If these programs are working. Great. But show me the proof. Quit hiding behind the fence. The days of unlimited dollars with little or no accountability are quickly coming to an end. TJPC and those counties with leadership that are unable to account for the money....Sunset in coming for you!! What about it Grayson County if you have the studies post them on your web page for all to see.

Anonymous said...

Dear 8:33,

The last study for our facility was one we commissioned ourselves and took place 5+ years ago. I will attempt to find it and post it on The TJPC has not had a study conducted on our facility. You would need to check other L5 facilities or with TJPC to find if they have had studies conducted. You are also more than welcome to visit our facility, it's staff, therapist, teachers, etc. Although the web says 57 we like to stay around 42 - 48 for our treatment/community milieu.

Mr. Grits: Apparently my staff enjoy your blog, they e-mail when Grayson shows up on it. Good luck and feel free to venture to the northern borders of Texas.

B Bristow

Anonymous said...

Boot camps “as a primary correctional modality” are not successful. However, the history in corrections really has three generations of boot camps. The original boot camps were based solely on discipline and marching. They were total failures. The second generation boot camps incorporated some treatment services and showed some success. The third, current, boot camp model really is a treatment program where marching, exercise, and uniforms are visible. The marching really pleases the community that relates to their, or their family member’s, experience in the military. However, the third generation of boot camps incorporate therapy, counseling and, if necessary, psychotropic medications as the primary correctional modality.

Boot camps are not inherently bad, one must look to what OTHER services are being provided.

Boot camps that incorporate evidence based treatment practices are what we should be supporting. Just because they march, exercise, and wear uniforms does not invalidate the programming.

I applaud Harris County for their progress.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to post this reminder regarding the erroneous calculation of tyc recidivism rates due to the practice of throwing cases at kids to keep them longer so when their released and reoffend again, they can’t come back. I have read in different places that tcy recidivism rate could be between 86% to 93%. I have used the 87% number but still for tyc with its culture 87% recidivism rate is excellent. I read somewhere that the 50% number could be used to describe the number of former tyc students on death row.
Then again as an engineer I’m trained in the classical science of reality where as the social science is more of statistical persuasion. And let’s remember we’re dealing with a culture with a 120 year history of cowering emps hiding behind an agency notorious for covering up child abuse. Also remember the emps at the gateville facility got a kudu’s type citation from the state just before the hammer got dropped on that lying group of child abusers.
Trusting tyc with children, even the worst of the worst, is foolishness, unless the goal is creating product for the corrections business. That’s where tyc really excels, the numbers speak for themselves.

Sheldon tyc#47333 c/s

Anonymous said...

Bootcamps do work for the right kids but the biggest key to a kid coming out of TYC, boot camps, substance abuse, etc. is how or if their home environment changed for the better while they were in residential placement?

If Harris County wants to really spend the time making a difference in their youth coming out of their facilities then they need to spend some time with these families and homes that the kids come out of or are going to after being released from placement.


Anonymous said...

One particular issue/problem with the "Boot Camp" model is staffing. You have some staff who are consistent with the military environment, maybe even a military background while others don't. Even some with a military background who don't know how to properly integrate this into the program and ensure consistency. It's hard to have a consistent military environment with differing types of staff and it sends mixed signals to the kids. You can still facilitate discipline and physical training without the military aspect.

Anonymous said...

I beleive that Harris County is doing a great job getting these children (juveniles) the help they really need. However, I know someone that runs a boot camp he's military, all his staff is military and they all work together. They have academics, PT (Physical training) and have Elite Counseling. These children are doing well. This is a last resort before they are sent to a Juvenile facility. Their self esteem is great, because some of these individuals do things physically they never beleived they could do. This individual I know has had children that even ask to stay longer. Nothing wrong with testing physical agility. It all comes down to who runs a program.


So stop complaining already and maybe applaude those programs that do help. Or better yet get up and start your own program if you don't like how they are being run.

Anonymous said...

Yeh, use the ex-boot camp run by TYC at Sheffield as your guide. What a joke. Perhaps you can get Harison and Harris to run it for you.

Anonymous said...

Again, applaude the ones that do make a difference. You must of been in TYC I TAKE IT!

Anonymous said...

No I was not in TYC...that agency has become a laugh of the and world!

Anonymous said...

My in there ,no therapy ,one messes up they all pay the price with physical excercise,
Id like to know the reform part especially when this gaurds use volger language towards these kids , my son wasnt into fighting,never involved ,saw him this weekend his knuckles are purple ask him what's that? 18 hours solitary confinement as another boy punched him in his head ,so what is son suppose to do? He takes it and just walks away ,risk getting jumped on again or fend himself ,you can't say this is reform ,these kids are learning more disrespect with being cused at , learning. To fight ,more aggressive ,mental diagnoses ignored ,
Your building the body up adding aggressive behavior, and separation with there family ,as they are released there 10 worse, revolving door ,yes your job security ,you built this,you take the fall ,pitiful