Prison Boot Camps

Short-Term Prison Costs Reduced, but Long-Term Impact Uncertain Gao ID: GGD-93-69 April 29, 1993

The popularity of prison boot camps--corrections facilities using military-style, basic training techniques to steer young offenders away from committing more serious crimes--continues to rise, with 26 states now running 57 camps with a total capacity of more than 8,800 inmates. Whether these boot camps will ultimately reduce costs, recidivism, and crowding remains to be seen. Most programs are still relatively new, and few formal evaluations have been made. Preliminary information suggests that the camps reduce overall corrections costs and systemwide prison crowding because inmates are released earlier, not because the camps are less costly per inmate than other forms of imprisonment. Recidivism data are limited, but the early data show only marginal improvements over traditional forms of incarceration. As presently structured, the federal boot camp program, created in 1990, is too small to appreciably reduce overall costs, prison crowding, and recidivism in the federal prison system. With only 77 participants having completed the program, it is too early to assess the federal program's impact on recidivism.

GAO found that: (1) boot camps have continued to expand in popularity with 26 states operating a total of 57 boot camps servicing 8,880 inmates and 14 states operating boot camps for women inmates; (2) boot camps operate on a military style model, treat largely young nonviolent offenders with limited criminal histories, and offer a combination of work, discipline, drills, and training; (3) boot camps offer an alternative to traditional forms of incarceration and have the potential to reduce overcrowding, recidivism, and overall prison costs; (4) although states view boot camps as positive rehabilitation tools, their actual effectiveness is unknown because few states perform formal boot camp program evaluations; (5) boot camps do not significantly impact the inmate recidivism rate or reduce overall prison costs and overcrowding; (6) it is too soon to determine the federal boot camp program's impact on recidivism, since only 77 participants have completed all stages of the program; (7) the three stages in the federal boot camp program include boot camps, halfway houses, and home confinement; and (8) federal boot camp programs do not have early release incentives and statutory requirements restrict and set participation levels.

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