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Juvenile Justice System: Juvenile Boot Camps

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Social Theories of Juvenile Delinquency

Different theories of juvenile delinquency have been posited to explain deviant behavior of the youth.  The Anomie theory postulates that legitimate desires, wants or even needs that cannot be satisfied by conformity force a person into deviance.  (Merton).   Young delinquents like market scoundrels are force to steal food to satisfy hunger because they no money to buy food.  The motivation to commit crime overcomes restraints such as morality (Sykes and Matza).  The bond theory on the other hand, proposes that a person is free to commit delinquent acts because his ties to conventional order have somehow been broken.  (Hirschi).

Alienation from society causes the person to rebel from standards or convention resulting to delinquency.  A frame of mind that disassociates oneself from society frees the delinquent from moral restraints resulting to psychopaths who lack remorse or guilt their faults and pains they cause. Alienation can result from certain physical, emotional, mental or social defects of a delinquent.  Young victims of child molestation or incest rape may find their selves weird or rejected.  They voluntarily isolate themselves, create their own world, which is usually a defiant of society or join groups with whom they can relate.  The last brings forth the cultural deviance theory or cultural conflict that postulates the creation of new set of standards that is unacceptable to general convention. A subculture system whose norms consist of counter standards represents an opposition to the values held by the law-abiding society.  (Cavan).

All theories presented place emphasis to social learning in which human behavior including deviant behavior are influenced or molded by social factors.  (Merton).  Under the Anomie Theory, moral constraints are defeated by legitimate desires that are socially formed including structural characteristics i.e. economic stratification.  (Loubser and Parsons).  American culture is framed to condition people to emphasize on financial success e.g. desire to have money even through theft to buy convenience or luxury.  The social control theory assumes that man is by nature antisocial hence, it emphasizes the importance of a person’s social attachment to prevent deviant acts.  The cultural deviance theory directly pinpoints at the social environment as the culprit that produces delinquency.  This includes components of the society i.e. media that pressures people and the deviant subculture that exists as part of society.  The Columbian high school massacre for instance resurrected studying the effects of rock music and violent films to the psychological behavior of children.

Juvenile Justice Model of Punishment.

Considering the immaturity of the juvenile offender, justice models for juvenile delinquents place emphasis on judicial processing whose primary concern is the protection of individual rights and strict compliance to legally mandated procedures.  (Del Carmen and Trulson) For the protection of society and on the basis of retribution, only punitive correctional sanctions are enforced reflecting the laws emphasis on the juvenile than on the crime committed.

Punishments are implemented for prevention, deterrence, retribution and reformation. Prevention pertains to putting a stop to on an offender criminal commit a criminal act again.  Deterrent intends to incapacitate the offender to repeat the misdemeanor for the security of society in general.  Punishments serve as example and warning to restrain potential criminals to do the same. Retribution focuses the legal retaliation of the victims for the pain inflicted to them by the crime committed.  Finally, reformation highlights on reforming the criminal to basically be a socially acceptable person or a law abiding citizen again.  Considering age, the potential of the youth as the future generation, punishment for juvenile delinquents must focus on reformation to avoid recidivism. 

Boot camps

Instead of prison camps for adults, boot camps for juveniles have been established in the juvenile justice system to follow the justice model of punishment.  There are over a hundred boot camps operating in 10 states of America.   While programs vary in different camps, all boot camps possess similar features.  A juvenile delinquent is placed in a rigorous military setting, where teachers, facilitators and counselors, usually ex military men, impose discipline through hard work, physical exercise and verbal abuse.

While campers are separated from regular prison inmates, most campers or young offenders perceive that such facility serves as a version of prison camp designed especially for the youth or an alternative to longer confinement. (MacKenzie and Souryal) Boot camp programs include a strictly structured schedule and environment stressing discipline; education, job training, drug and alcohol treatment, psychological counseling, among others.  Following a military set up, the teaching or rather enforcement of discipline is by a stick approach. Physical penalties or punishments are given for non compliance to standards, policies, rules and regulations.  These penalties are sometimes abuses thus there have been many cases of charges of assault, sexual abuse and even death among counselors.  The US Government Accountability Office conducted investigations and hearings and found thousands of allegations of abuse at boot camps or residential treatment programs between the years 1990 and 2007.  There are also pending civil and criminal trials of the same nature. (GAO)

Moreover, a study conducted by Dr. Cynthia Kempinen in the Pennsylvania’s Motivational Boot Camp Program, evinces that boot camps are ineffective in controlling recidivism.  “Offenders who are young, unemployed, commit property offenses, are from rural areas, and have longer maximum sentences are more likely to recidivate regardless of whether they go to Boot Camp or prison”.


Advocating the social learning theories on juvenile delinquency, the juvenile justice system must focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment. As a crime is a learned behavior, it is obliquely assumed that juvenile delinquents are also victims of society’s miseducation.  Hence, the juvenile justice system should actively utilize the same social system that molded criminal behavior, in reforming a juvenile delinquent or preventing the miseducation by promoting positive values in attachment to society and abidance to law in order to prevent juvenile delinquency on the first place.

Juvenile boot camps are ineffective to reflect the juvenile justice system model that focuses on the reformation.  As shown by studies and incidences of abuse, juvenile boot camps are a version of prison camps for the youth. It has become a venue for legal child abuse and has been proven ineffective in reforming character because it did not curtail incidents of recidivism.  Because it follows a military culture, it does not teach discipline but imposes it.  The military culture is a subculture in the society which is organic and dynamic and where freedom and creativity are present.

A juvenile justice system must adopt an integrated approach for the prevention of juvenile delinquency.  This includes the mobilization of society in general.  The mobilization of the whole community should be the main model in the implementation the reformative and preventive objectives of our juvenile justice system.  This is may be achieved by a close coordination of law enforcement in these social institutions.  The community includes social units such as family, peers, schools, the church and the community.  These social institutions should provide positive socialization that will further reinforce the attachment of the youth to conventional society.  These are important components in society that are absent in a boot camp.

The family unit is crucial to the development of a person and healthy rearing. As basic unit of society, it is where we first learn.  The family or the guardians serve as teachers and role models of a child.  The friend or peers of a person is the next social contact of a person where he can learn values.  The school is the social institution where formal learning of values is available.  Schools should incorporate values formation in their general curriculum development approach.  Moreover, its curriculum should also formalize the inclusion or the integration of other social institutions in the learning of students.  Reformative institutions like boot camps should coordinate and integrate its activities and programs with social institutions to promote positive attachment of a person to society.


Cavan, R.C. Juvenile Delinquency: Sociolgoy. University of Michigan: J. B. Lippincott Company: 1975

Del Carmen, R. and Trulson, C. Juvenile Justice: The System, Process, and the Law. Thomson/Wadsworth: 2005

Hirschi, T. Causes of Delinquency. Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.  2002

Hoge, R and Andrews, D.A.. Assessing the Youthful Offender: Issues and Techniques. New York and London: Plenum Press: 1996

Howell, J.C. Preventing and Reducing Juvenile Delinquency: A Comprehensive Framework. ND: Sage Publications: 2003

Kempinen, C. Evaluation of the Boot Camp Program: Boot Camp Recidivism Study in the  Pennsylvania’s Motivational Boot Camp Program. 2000 Legislative Report Pennsylvania State University,  University Park, Pine Cottage PA 16802: 2000

Leighninger, L., & Popple, Phillip R. Social Work, Social Welfare, and American Society  (3rd. ed.). Allyn and Bacon: Needham Heights, MA.: 1996

Loubser, J and Parsons, T. Explorations in General Theory in Social Science: essays in honor of Talcott Parsons (Electronic version):  Free Press: 1976

Merton, R. Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: the Free Press, 1957.

Robert W.A. and Borduin C. Verbal Conflict Resolution in Families of Serious Juvenile Offenders.” Journal of Genetic Psychology, 1997

Sykes, G. and Matza D. Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review, Vol. 22, No. 6: 1957

United States Government Accountability Office RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT PROGRAMS Concerns Regarding Abuse and Death in Certain Programs for Troubled

Youth. U.S. Government Accountability Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149

Washington, DC 20548. , 2007. Retrieved from: www.gao.gov

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