ONLINE ATHENS (GEORGIA), December 11, 1999

Boot Camps Not Working
Associated Press, Atlanta, Georgia

State seeks different focus for youth military-style boot camps

The state Department of Juvenile Justice plans to phase out its military-style boot camps, focusing less on children marching in step and more on developing useful life skills in the 90-day program for young offenders.

Former Gov. Zell Miller pushed the camps, which first opened in 1994, as an alternative place for judges to send children who were not chronic offenders and who had not yet committed serious offenses.

But Juvenile Justice spokeswoman Jaci Vickers said Friday the camps are not working and the department is planning to change its approach.

The Department of Technical and Adult Education has agreed to help Juvenile Justice officials develop programs that will focus on education and technical and vocational training, she said.

''What we found out and what national statistics bear out is that the boot camps don't really work as well. The most critical thing for young people ... is education,'' she said. ''We know that kids who are academically and vocationally prepared have a better chance of staying out of trouble than those who don't, and that's why we're placing a greater emphasis on education.''

Georgia's move is part of a growing trend. Colorado, North Dakota and Arizona have eliminated such camps, while Florida and Maryland have scaled theirs back.

About half of the youths who went through Georgia's boot camps have returned to crime, according to state statistics. While that's about 25 percent below the national rate, state officials said they expected better results.

Phillip Barrett of the Department of Juvenile Justice said officials expected some youths who went through the boot camps to return to crime, but they had hoped for a recidivism rate of as low as 25 percent.

''We were focusing more on discipline and less on helping the children learn the skills that they need once they return to their communities to lead upright lives,'' he said.

Juvenile Justice Commissioner Orlando Martinez said he hopes to implement the new programs initially at the Wrightsville Youth Development Campus and at a Sumter County camp scheduled to open next summer.

Three boot camps -- in Ocilla, Swainsboro and Pelham -- have begun switching over their regimens to education-based programs. The educational programs will also be phased in at five other boot camps, Martinez said, adding that he has no deadline for installing the changes.

''We've evaluated the boot camps in our state, and we looked at boot camps in other states, and basically we have concluded we need to change our approach to short-term treatment,'' he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a story in Friday's editions.

''It's not effective, and we need to find other ways of dealing with kids.''

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