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Boot camp for teens?

NEWS FACT: Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died last year after being beaten at a Florida boot camp for juveniles. Seven guards and a nurse at the state-run facility where Anderson died have been charged with aggravated manslaughter [unlawful killing].

Teen boot camps are modeled after military training camps, and can be either public or private. If a teen commits a crime, the judge may order him or her to go to a state-run boot camp instead of jail. Typically, teens sent to boot camps follow a structured schedule for about 90 days. Activities include military-style drills, exercise, and some academic work. Although such programs can be rigorous, many teens say that boot camps helped them turn their lives around.

Teens sent to private camps usually do not have criminal records. But they may be using drugs and alcohol, or falling behind in school. Parents who have lost control of their kids pay thousands of dollars to enroll them in such programs.

Supporters of state-run boot camps say that they are more productive than confining youths in prison. But teens are still at risk. Dozens have died in those camps because of harsh conditions and excessive discipline. As a result of Anderson's death, Florida dismantled its boot-camp system and replaced it with juvenile facilities that focus on education and counseling. Today, nearly 20 states still operate boot camps.

What Do You Think?

Is boot camp the answer for out-of-control teens?


"Sometimes teens should go somewhere to get help, and sometimes [they] need a little punishment," says Jacob Madle, 13, an eighth-grader at Alpena High School in Alpena, Arkansas. He doesn't believe, however, that teens should be beaten. "I would definitely not send a teen to a place that gives that degree of punishment."

Some programs sag they use only "appropriate discipline." According to its Web site, the Texas Youth Commission Sheffield Boot Camp offers only "the positive aspects" of traditional boot camp, including clear rules and group counseling.

Such programs can help troubled teens turn their lives around. It worked for Mike, a former inmate at Liahona Academy, a boot camp for bogs in Utah. "Thank you for everything you have done for me," he wrote on the academy's Web site. "I owe you my life."


Jordan Riak, executive director of Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education, believes that even the nonviolent techniques that boot camps use to discipline teens are a form of "brainwashing." Such techniques include enforced exercise, verbal humiliation, and limited contact with friends and family. Such a routine, Riak says, "quickly wears down even the most resilient individual."

Sara Ramsey, 14, agrees. "Boot camps are meant to break people down, and make them conform to something they may not be," says the ninth-grader at Richland High School in Essex, Missouri.

Once a troubled teen herself, author Maia Szalavitz says that putting "kids who are already suffering ... through more suffering is psychologically backwards." Lack of regulation and oversight, she adds, makes boot camps a potentially dangerous place for vulnerable teens.
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Title Annotation:Debate
Publication:Junior Scholastic
Date:Feb 26, 2007
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