In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Boot Camps and Shock Incarceration Programs

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • History, Philosophy, and Goals
  • Atmosphere and Practices
  • Offender Adjustment
  • Effect on Offenders’ Attitudes
  • Effect of Adult Boot Camps on Recidivism
  • Effect of Juvenile Boot Camps on Recidivism
  • Overcrowding and Correctional Costs
  • Special Populations
  • Fall from Popularity, Evolution, and Future

Criminology Boot Camps and Shock Incarceration Programs
Ojmarrh Mitchell, Fawn T. Ngo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 November 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0068


Correctional boot camps, also known as “shock incarceration” programs, are correctional programs modeled after military basic training. Just like basic training, boot camps emphasize drill and ceremony—and physical activity. Generally, boot camps target young, nonviolent offenders with limited criminal history. Boot camps are largely short-term programs lasting 90 to 180 days. Inmates who successfully complete these programs are released under supervision back to the community; however, inmates who drop out or are dismissed from boot camps are often required to serve longer terms of incarceration in traditional correctional facilities. Typically, inmates involved in boot camps are required to wake up before dawn, dress quickly, gather, and march to an exercise yard, where they perform calisthenics, complete long runs, take on obstacle/challenge courses, and engage in manual labor. Inmates march to their dining facilities, where they typically eat quickly and with minimal conversation before engaging in more military exercises. Boot camps require inmates to adhere to a strict code of conduct at all times. Deviations from these rules are met with reprimands or punishments involving physical exercises (e.g., push-ups) or the removal of privileges. Outside of this quasi-military orientation, boot camps vary greatly. Some programs have little to no time allotted for treatment activities, while others devote considerable portions of the day to these activities. Some programs require offenders to volunteer for the programs; others allow judges or corrections officials to mandate boot camp participation. Another important variation is in the manner and intensity of postrelease community supervision; some programs offer offenders limited community supervision, while other programs offer intensive supervision. This bibliography lists research describing boot camps and their philosophy and goals. It also details research that evaluates inmate adjustment to the boot camp environment and the effects of boot camp participation on various outcomes. Taken together, the studies listed here describe the rise, fall, and evolution of correctional boot camp programs.

General Overviews

Numerous overviews of boot camps are available. MacKenzie and Hebert 1996, an edited volume, is notable for its chapters examining the various manifestations of boot camp programs in operation across the United States at the time. Cronin 1994 is another overview of the different forms of boot camp programs in operation in the early 1990s. Benda and Pallone 2005 provides a comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding boot camps. MacKenzie and Armstrong 2004 is another comprehensive collection of articles researching boot camps. For those looking for a briefer overview of boot camps, several resources are available. See, for example, Armstrong and MacKenzie 2003, MacKenzie 1990, Parent 2003, and Jenkins, et al. 1993. MacKenzie and Parent 1992 is unique in that it is a general overview of boot camp programs for juvenile offenders.

  • Armstrong, Gaylene S., and Doris L. MacKenzie. 2003. Boot camps. In Encyclopedia of juvenile justice. Edited by Marilyn D. McShane and Franklin P. Williams III, 28–35. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    A very brief but expansive encyclopedia entry on boot camps, the debate about boot camps, and evaluations of boot camps’ effectiveness in reducing recidivism and prison crowding.

  • Benda, Brent B., and Nathaniel J. Pallone, eds. 2005. Rehabilitation issues, problems, and prospects in boot camps. New York: Haworth.

    This edited volume contains chapters tracing the rise and fall of boot camps’ popularity, evaluations of boot camps on various outcomes, and adjustment to the boot camp environment. This volume was simultaneously published as a special issue of the Journal of Offender Rehabilitation (40.3–4 [2005]).

  • Cronin, Roberta C., and Mei Han. 1994. Boot camps for adult and juvenile offenders: Overview and update. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    This research report surveyed correctional departments in all fifty states and the District of Columbia in 1992 and 1993. It provides an overview of boot camp programs at that time, as well as efforts to evaluate these programs.

  • Jenkins, William, Jr., Lynn Gibson, and Frankie Fulton. 1993. Prison boot camps: Short-term prison costs reduced, but long-term impact uncertain. Washington, DC: US General Accounting Office.

    This report focuses on describing the number of boot camps; their effectiveness in reducing recidivism, prison costs, and prison crowding; and assessing the potential of boot camps in the federal prison system.

  • MacKenzie, Doris L. 1990. Boot camp prisons: Components, evaluations, and empirical issues. Federal Probation 54:44–52.

    This brief overview of boot camps describes the features of boot camps, their goals, and their effectiveness in achieving these goals.

  • MacKenzie, Doris L., and Gaylene S. Armstrong, eds. 2004. Correctional boot camps: Military basic training or a model for corrections? Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    This is perhaps the most comprehensive book on the topic of boot camps. All major issues surrounding boot camps are addressed. This volume is also notable because it focuses on the work of Doris L. MacKenzie, a prominent boot camp researcher, and her colleagues.

  • MacKenzie, Doris L., and Eugene E. Hebert, eds. 1996. Correctional boot camps: A tough intermediate sanction. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    This is an edited volume of relatively early research on boot camps. It is notable for its chapters detailing boot camps in local, state, and federal facilities, as well as boot camps’ problems and prospects with special populations (e.g., substance abusers and women).

  • MacKenzie, Doris L., and Dale G. Parent. 1992. Boot camp prisons for young offenders. In Smart sentencing: The emergence of intermediate sanctions. Edited by James M. Byrne, Arthur J. Lurigio, and Joan R. Petersilia, 103–122. Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

    This chapter discusses the growth and goals of boot camps, opposition to boot camps, and various manifestations of boot camps. The authors also discuss the evidence assessing the effectiveness of boot camps in meeting their goals.

  • Parent, Dale G. 2003. Correctional boot camps: Lessons from a decade of research. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice.

    The author reviewed ten years of research on boot camps to measure their effectiveness in meeting the goals of reduced recidivism and reductions in prison populations and correctional costs. He concludes that evaluations of boot camps generally report positive change in attitudes but not recidivism, and that boot camps reduce prison populations and correctional costs only in certain circumstances.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.