Good News: FL Boot Camps May Get the Boot

Finally, some good news out of Florida--maybe. The St. Petersburg Times reports in a front-page story that the state's Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee --importantly, with the support of the Governor and the sheriffs who run the boot camps--has recommended zeroing out the budget for the programs. The move comes in the wake of the death of fourteen-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who was beaten by guards in his first hours in a boot camp and died shortly thereafter.

"This is a 100 percent policy shift," Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, told the paper, adding, "Intimidation-based programs simply don't work."

Now for the tricky part. The money will still go to the sheriffs who currently run the boot camps, but will fund a new program under development called STAR, the Sheriff's Training and Respect program. The program is based on a boot camp that emphasizes education, therapy and aftercare, rather than attempting to scare kids straight. The research on boot camps shows that boot camp programs which incorporate these elements are far more successful than those which don't.

But the data overall is pretty clear that the less like a boot camp a boot camp is, the greater its positive effects on troubled kids. And that raises an important question: given that the primary expertise of law enforcement is not, shall we say, therapy, education and aftercare, why isn't this money simply being redirected towards rehabilitation programs run by people who do have those skills that are already known to work?

Perhaps that's too much to ask. But in a state like Florida with a long history of supporting programs so tough that they have killed kids and left many more with post-traumatic stress disorder, an acknowledgement that aggressive treatment isn't effective is nonetheless a major step forward. Now, if only the rest of the country, and especially, the people in the business of selling "tough love" residential treatment to parents, would take heed.