Boot camps

David B. Wilson, Doris Layton MacKenzie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

7 Scopus citations


Discipline is one of the first words that come to mind when one hears the phrase "boot camps." Boot camps have a long history within the United States military (officially called basic training) and have been used to indoctrinate recruits into the culture of the military. The military boot camp is replete with strict discipline, grueling physical activity, and instruction in the basics of military life. Boot camps have been romanticized as an environment that changes boys into men and many men who served in the military reflect nostalgically on their boot camp experience (Simon, 1995). The marriage of the military style boot camp and correctional programming is intuitively appealing. Juvenile delinquents and young adult offenders are often considered to be lacking in discipline. A leading criminological theory places selfcontrol, a cousin of discipline, at the center of a causal framework for criminal behavior (Gottfredson and Hirschi, 1990). It seems natural that if juvenile and young adult offenders lack discipline, then a program based on discipline should be beneficial. Boot camps intuitive appeal has lead to their rapid proliferation since first emerging in 1983 in Georgia and Oklahoma. Their growth first occurred in the adult correctional systems and later in juvenile corrections. Boot camps appear to represent the next step in the evolution of Western penology. There is nothing new, however, in boot camps as a method of punishment and correction. One of the early United States prisons was constructed in Auburn, Pennsylvania, in 1817. The Auburn model of punishment was developed during the 1820s by an individual with a military background and was structured around a belief in the value of strict discipline, a regimented routine, and corporal punishment (Colvin, 1997), a strikingly similar philosophy to the modern boot camp. The boot camp is simply a repackaging of an old idea for punishment and rehabilitation (Simon, 1995). Despite intuitive appeal and widespread adoption, boot camps are controversial within the field of criminal justice. Debate revolves around questions of the impact on the adjustment and behavior of offenders both during and after incarceration in the boot camps. According to advocates, the atmosphere of the camps is conducive to positive growth and change (Clark and Aziz, 1996; MacKenzie and Hebert, 1996). In contrast, critics argue that many of the components of the camps are in direct opposition to the type of relationships and supportive conditions that are needed for quality therapeutic programming and rehabilitation (Andrews et al., 1990; Gendreau et al., 1996; Morash and Rucker, 1990; Sechrest, 1989). This systematic review of boot camps will critically examine the extant empirical evidence on the effect of these programs on future criminal activity. Deterring future crime, protecting the public, and rehabilitating offenders are major goals of boot camps according to advocates and a survey of state correctional officials (Gowdy, 1996). The starting point for deciding whether or not boot camps should continue as a form of corrections is determining the effect of these programs on criminal behavior. Thus, we apply meta-analytic methods to all available boot camp evaluations with recidivism as an outcome. As a result, we do not summarize the studies that examine other effects of these programs, such as impact on attitudes, attachment to the community, or impulsivity (e.g., MacKenzie et al., 2001; MacKenzie and Shaw, 1990; MacKenzie and Souryal, 1995). Before reviewing the evidence regarding effectiveness, we provide background information on the nature of boot camps.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPreventing Crime
Subtitle of host publicationWhat Works for Children, Offenders, Victims, and Places
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)1402042434, 9781402042430
StatePublished - 2006

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences
  • General Arts and Humanities


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