Nine of 10 juveniles who attend Pinellas facility go
on to be arrested again.
Boot Camp Has Little Success
Nine of 10 youths sent to the Pinellas County boot
camp end up where they started: back in custody. "Are we really being
effective in what we're trying to do?" asked Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats.
"Somewhere, there's a breakdown in the system here."
A study Coats requested shows that 666 of the 740
youths who attended the camp from November 1993 to November 2005 were
arrested after completing the program. Of those, 607 were convicted or
given some form of juvenile judgment. Coats said he is disappointed but
not ready to shut down the program.
Instead, the sheriff wants to set up a residential
facility to temporarily house boot camp graduates, rather than return
them to communities where they first committed crimes. In a few months,
he said, he intends to approach the Pinellas County Commission with a
Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart said he was
stunned that so many boot camp graduates went on to commit more crimes.
He said the idea of a residential facility was a good one, but wants to
know how much it would cost. "I can see the advantage of such a plan,"
Stewart said. But such a residential facility, he added, "could be a
very expensive proposition." The boot camp already costs about $2.7
million a year. The state pays almost $2 million of that. Pinellas
County pays the rest, nearly $762,000.
Florida's boot camps have been under increasing
scrutiny since the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson on Jan. 6, a
day after he was roughed up by guards at the Bay County camp. A
surveillance video showed that a half-dozen guards punched, kneed and
restrained the youth, who complained of breathing difficulties during
the enrollment procedure. The Bay County medical examiner ruled that
Martin did not die as a result of those blows, but family members and
other authorities have disputed that finding. Hillsborough County State
Attorney Mark Ober is investigating, and Anderson's body was exhumed
Friday in preparation for a second autopsy in Tampa today.
The Pinellas boot camp houses juvenile male offenders
ages 14 to 18 who have at least one felony conviction and are designated
a moderate risk. The Pinellas boot camp has handled 48 to 102 recruits a
year since 1999. The state, which tracks youths for a year after they
finish boot camp, said 61 percent of the youths who attended the
Pinellas boot camp in 2003-2004 were subsequently convicted of another
crime or given some form of criminal judgment. That was the worst
recidivism rate among the state's boot camps. In previous years,
Pinellas has ranked near the middle.
Many graduates of the Pinellas camp end up in jail.
About 52 percent of them are charged with a felony. Often, they're in
trouble for violent crimes or crimes involving property and drugs.
Steven Chapman, a juvenile justice researcher and program evaluator,
said the state's boot camps did have some success in turning around
youths. In 2003-2004, for example, the state's boot camps had a total
recidivism rate of 41 percent. That same year, by comparison, halfway
houses for moderate-risk youths had a recidivism rate of 44 percent.
Hunter Hurst, a senior research assistant at the
National Center for Juvenile Justice, said boot camps were created out
of the belief that giving youths an intense experience would affect them
in ways that a halfway house would not. But Hurst said it was difficult
to find studies that proved whether boot camps had much success in
helping kids who were in trouble.
"I think boot camps are misguided," Hurst said. "There
are other experiences -- like wilderness camps, for example -- that
could be more constructive."
Abhi Raghunathan with Cathy Wos
13 March 2006