ATLANTA -- Georgia judges continue to sentence offenders to
the state's juvenile boot camps even though the federal
government says the programs are ineffective punishment.
More than 16,000 juveniles have been sentenced to the 90-day
program since it began four years ago, including 5,600 in fiscal
1997 -- almost double the total in 1995.
Juvenile Judge Lane Bearden said the boot camps are useful to
judges who don't want to send problem youths to juvenile prison
and don't want to return them to their homes either.
``I know there have been problems, but I also have had kids
come to me and say, `Judge, it's the best thing to happen to
me,''' he said.
``But there are probably some kids that I send to a boot
camp, if I had a community program available I'd send them there
instead,'' Judge Bearden said, citing such possible programs as
wilderness training and after-school programs.
The U.S. Justice Department criticized the program in
February, after a yearlong investigation during which it
inspected three boot camps.
Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Bill Lann
Lee said federal investigators found that:
-- Guards routinely used extreme forms of corporal punishment
under the guise of providing on-the-spot correction, resulting
in serious injuries to youths.
-- Mentally ill and disabled youths received inadequate care
-- Inadequate screening allowed youths with injured legs and
feet or with serious medical conditions to be admitted into the
-- Younger children who had difficulty understanding boot
camp commands were being psychologically and physically harmed.
``It is our experts' opinion -- and the opinion of many of
the boot camp staff and mental health professionals with whom we
spoke -- that the paramilitary boot camp model is not only
ineffective, but harmful to such youths,'' Mr. Lee said.
State Department of Juvenile Justice officials strongly
dispute the allegations.
``We have done the very best we can to provide bed space and
a good environment to the kids,'' said Yolande Collins, deputy
director of the Juvenile Justice campus operations.