TOM BLOMBERG ON BOOTCAMPS-Andrew Stelzer

02/16/06

The Florida house criminal Justice appropriations committee held hearings on the states boot camps in Tallahassee on Wednesday. One of the people who spoke was Tom Bloomberg is the dean and professor of criminology at the college of criminology and criminal justice at Florida state university. WMNF spoke to Bloomberg today, we began by asking him about the history of boot camps around the country.

"They are not in all 50 states. They did spread pretty substantially, really, in the late '80s early '90s but I think their popularity has waned and a number of states are reducing them with several states closing them down. Arizona closed its two boot camps because of two deaths in Arizona and in the case in Maryland, they just recently closed theirs because of the patterns of physical abuses."

Stelzer: "And of course in Florida what we're talking about right now is the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a 14-year-old. You spoke to some of the legislators yesterday regarding this issue and like you had just said, there are some problems and what are your feelings, and what did you say to the legislature?"

Blomberg: "Basically, my message to the legislature, and what I was asked to communicate to them was, what do the research about boot camps tell us? We've had them for over 20 years and at their peak, they dealt with across the country about 4,500 kids a year and they were designed as a more effective way to deal with moderately serious offenders than a probation or incarceration. But their results have been pretty poor. If you look at recidivism, they certainly do not in any consistent way during the '90s or in 2000s in any of the studies that have been done have not found them to be any more successful in reducing recidivism than incarceration or probation. Some studies even argue they have a brutalizing effect and contribute to increasing recidivism but there are studies that counter that and say, 'no, there are youth that do benefit from these programs and do have reduced recidivism' so that is a little mixed. The evidence on attitude change is pretty much little or no effect and the idea being is that the kids would experience an increase in their self-concept and that would result in an attitude change, make them more successful when they return to the free community but those results have not materialized. And then the final rationale underlying boot camps is that they would certainly be cheaper because they would be a shorter duration -- maximum six months, more like three months, three to six months and therefore less costly than a longer institutional sentence, which could be a year or longer. But since the programs were not successful in any patterned recidivism reduction, you had the kids going through court for a new offense, then going into an institution. So when you add those two together, you have no cost savings and some studies even report increased costs."

Stelzer: "So did you recommend that Florida close all their boot camps down?"

Blomberg: "Well I indicated you had all these performance results that are a problem with the preponderance of evidence and then I indicated you have some other problems with deaths in these boot camps, which is pretty alarming. Since the early '90s, 35 young people have died in boot camps across the country and a number of programs have been subject to class action over physical abuse. So with the questionable performance coupled with this other problem, which is a major problem. My feeling was, when asked that question, while the record is not perfectly clear, it seems to me that the preponderance of evidence, I'd have a hard time continuing to fund boot camps."

Stelzer: "And so knowing what you do about the legislature and from the line of questioning you received yesterday, what, what do you think is going to happen here in Florida?"

Blomberg: "The pattern is, is we've gone from nine boot camps, we're down to four now and with the closing of that one program in Martin County, we'll be down to four -- we are now at five. And Martin County will be closing, so we'll be down to four so that will mean more than half of Florida's boot camps will have closed as of 2006. And now with the terrible tragedy in Bay County I just think there are some problems here that are not going to be easily remedied and my guess is that there are probably going to be some changes and I would think the change would be that we may well see the thought of putting our emphasis elsewhere. One of the reasons I think boot camps may well stop pretty much, and why they've stopped in other states, is that we don't know what their precise record is and then we've got this other problem with physical abuse and even deaths and so I think the lesson at some point we have to get with our justice policies is that you cannot enact these policies without building in some sort of accountability and systematic evaluation mechanism that tells you, 'you develop boot camps to do A and B, if they're not doing A and B, change them.' If they still cannot do it, you really need to put your resources elsewhere. We're dealing with increasing conditions of scarcity. As I told the committee, crime costs us over 600 billion a year. We can't continue to spend that money without proven practices." -30-

TOM BLOMBERG ON BOOTCAMPS

That was Tom Blomberg, the dean and professor of criminology at the college of criminology and criminal justice at Florida state university.

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