Juvenile Boot Camps Vs. Juvenile Delinquent Programs

By Ashley Seehorn

Juvenile delinquency is a common problem in the United States. All teenagers can be rebellious and difficult at times. However, when problem behaviors begin to interfere with the child's academic, family, social and personal functioning, adults must intervene. Delinquency may include stealing, substance abuse, defiance and a host of other troublesome behaviors. These behaviors are a risk to both the family and the society as a whole. Several different types of programs have been developed to deal with juvenile offenders and their families.

Factors Involved in Juvenile Deliquency

Juvenile delinquency does not happen in a vacuum. These children have many other background factors that contribute to their problem behaviors. Some of these factors include mental health disorders, substance abuse on the part of the teen or the family members, physical abuse, mental or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and parent incarceration. These factors do not mitigate or decrease the severity of the child's offenses, but they must be considered in any approach to dealing with juvenile offenders.

Boot Camps

Boot camps are juvenile delinquency programs that provide a military-style environment. Boot camps emphasize physical training and discipline. Usually, these programs are offered as an alternative to detention facilities, particularly for non-violent offenders or first time offenders. Typically, the program is followed by probation or type of some aftercare program. In general, most experts agree that boot camps are not more effective than other approaches for juvenile offenders. Boot camps do not reduce recidivism, and often lead to only short-term benefits, according to Mental Health America. These programs often fail to address the background factors related to juvenile delinquency, particularly substance abuse and mental health issues.

Detention Facilities

Juvenile detention facilities are essentially prison for young offenders. The emphasis of these facilities is separation from the populace rather than rehabilitation. While education is usually addressed, other factors such as substance abuse and mental health issues may not be addressed at all. This can lead to increased recidivism. Detention can encourage troubled youth to influence one another's behavior in a negative manner, causing imitative behavior in impressionable young offenders. Furthermore, the cost of detention is a major negative factor. The average daily cost of detention in 2001 was $135.40.

Wilderness Programs

Also known as Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, wilderness programs are intensive therapeutic programs designed to serve youth with emotional, behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse issues. These programs include elements of survival training, group therapy, individual counseling, and social skills training. The goals of OBH programs are to develop personal responsibility, social skills, and foster independence while working on reducing substance abuse and restoring family harmony. Assessments of OBH programs show promise in terms of long-term benefits and reducing recidivism.

Therapeutic Boarding Schools

Therapeutic boarding schools are a residential treatment facility that emphasizes educational needs of the young offenders. Structured schedules revolve around academic courses, homework, and approved extracurricular activities. These programs also include therapeutic interventions to address mental health issues and substance abuse problems. Cognitive and behavioral therapy are utilized, as well as experiential therapy. Experiential therapy emphasizes learning through doing, such as caring for animals. Therapeutic boarding schools are considered effective in the long term due to the focus on underlying factors of delinquency, such as substance abuse.

Residential Treatment

Standard residential mental health facilities are also available for troubled teens. These programs usually focus on therapy and substance abuse issues, but may include educational interventions as well. Again, underlying factors are addressed along with behavioral problems.

Which Programs are Most Effective?

According to all available literature, teen boot camps are ineffective for long-term rehabilitation. The short-term benefits of discipline and physical fitness are not enough to encourage long-term change in adolescents. Simple incarceration also has no long-term promise for rehabilitation. Outdoor behavioral health, therapeutic boarding schools, and residential facilities have been found to be more effective. This is due to the emphasis on underlying factors causing behavior problems, rather than focusing on the behaviors themselves. In the long run, programs with appropriate therapeutic interventions combined with aftercare have been found to be the most effective.

About the Author

Ashley Seehorn has been writing professionally since 2009. Her work has been featured on a variety of websites including: eHow, Answerbag and Opposing Views Cultures. She has been a teacher for 20 years and has taught all ages from preschool through college. She is currently working as a Special Education Teacher.