In the military, boot camp represents an abrupt, often shocking transition to a new way of life. Discipline is strict and there is an emphasis on hard work, physical training, and unquestioning obedience to authority. The new private is told when to sleep, when to get up and when to eat. He marches with his platoon everywhere he goes such as to meals and to training. Orders must be obeyed instantly and personal liberty is almost nonexistent. By the end of boot camp the new private has become a different person.
Such was the hope for boot camp, or shock incarceration, programs in American prisons: that young, nonviolent offenders could be diverted from a life outside the law using the same tactics successfully employed by the military to turn civilians into soldiers. This reliance on a military atmosphere still provokes controversy over boot camp programs, with proponents arguing that the rigid discipline promotes positive behavior. (Clear, 1997; Cowels, 1995) Since their beginning in 1983 in Georgia, boot camps have spread to half the States and have gained wide popular appeal for their “get tough” policies.
Proponents of boot camps cite their potential for rehabilitating offenders and curbing future criminal behavior. Opponents caution that more information is needed on a variety of issues including costs and the potential for abuse of power. Research into boot camps began with a 1988 study of Louisiana’s boot camp program and continued with a multi-site evaluation in 1989 (Cowels, 1995). Fueled primarily by growth in the number of offenders incarcerated during the past decade and changing views of the role of punishment and treatment in the correctional system.
Shock incarceration programs, or “boot camps” as they have been more recently called, have emerged as an increasingly popular alternative sanction for nonviolent crimes. Boot camp programs operate under a military-like routine wherein young offenders convicted of less serious, nonviolent crimes are confined for a short period of time, typically from 3 to 6 months (Parent, 1989). They are given close supervision while being exposed to a demanding regimen of strict discipline, physical training, drill, inspections, and physical labor.
All the programs also incorporate some degree of military structure and discipline. They follow new strict rules that they are not use to which include the following: (1) Basic training program inmates shall not enter the rooms of other inmates. (2) Upon rising, inmates will make their beds in the military manner prescribed by staff and the beds will remain in this condition unless occupied. (3) No food, beverages, or other items from the dining hall will be permitted in the dormitories. ) No talking is permitted during quiet time, study time or after lights out. (5) Inmates shall not place any pictures, photographs, calendars, posters, or writings of any type on doors, walls, lockers, or on any other state equipment or property. (6) Rooms and lockers shall be kept neat and orderly in the manner prescribed by basic training program staff. (7) Cleanliness of common areas such as day rooms, hallways, and showers shall be the responsibility of all inmates assigned to that housing wing of the dormitory. )
When leaving the dormitory for any reason, inmates will be in the uniform of the day as specified by the program director. (9) Inmates shall contact the dormitory officer or supervisor about any personal problems, which might arise. If the problem cannot be resolved at this level, the inmate may submit his concerns in writing to the officer in charge or program director (America Online, 1994; Cowels, 1995). Appearance and Hygiene: (1) Hair. Basic training program inmates will receive a military style haircut upon arrival in the program.
Inmates will subsequently receive haircuts every two weeks for the duration of the program. (2) Shaving. Basic training program inmates shall be clean shaven. Inmates shall shave every day unless it is determined by the institutional physician that shaving would be detrimental to the inmate’s health. (3) Showers. Basic training program inmates shall shower daily. (4) Clothing. Basic training program inmates will be issued the required clothing specified for the basic training program.
Inmates shall not alter or mark any clothing items issued. No other items of clothing will be permitted. (America Online, 1994) When the inmates first arrive they have an orientation which includes: (1) Inmate identification by photograph, name, and DC number; (2) Initial reception and introduction to the basic training program, will include an explanation of the shock incarceration program and the community residential facilities; (3) Inventory of inmate personal property; (4) Explanation of disciplinary procedures. ) Haircuts; (6) Housing assignments; (7) Issuance of basic training program uniforms and explanation of basic training program dress code and inmate hygiene requirements. (America Online, 1994) Programs also differ in whether activities such as work, community services, education, or counseling are incorporated in the schedule of activities. There is some consistency in the goals of the programs, among them to reduce prison crowding and to change offender’s behavior and thus their future involvement in crime.
Some jurisdictions stress the need for intensive supervision after release if the behavioral changes brought about by shock incarceration are to continue in the community. Some States impose additional requirements, such as drug testing, while the offender is under parole supervision. Boot camp programs are generally designed for young, nonviolent offenders with their first felony conviction. (Cronin, 1994) These offenders usually volunteer for the program and must meet physical and mental health requirements.
Placement and release decisions vary from one program to another and may be made by judges, corrections department administrators, or members of parole boards (Cowels, 1995). Precursors of shock incarceration programs include “shock probation” and “Scared Straight,” that pursued specific deterrence objectives. The Scared Straight program tried to deter young delinquents by making them fearful of prison through short, confrontational performances dramatized inside a prison by hard-core inmates (Cronin, 1994).