Boy's Death Revives Boot Camp Debate

ByABC News
July 10, 2001, 3:17 PM

July 12 -- After reports that a teen died at an Arizona boot camp after being forced to eat mud and march in 100 degree heat, supporters of the youth programs say they get a bad rap.

Anthony Haynes died July 1 while at an Arizona boot camp operated by the America's Buffalo Soldiers Re-enactors Association.

The investigation into his death is ongoing, but sources close to the camp said Haynes was also deprived of food and water and forced to stand in the sun for hours without water. Former camp drill instructors have said that counselors often kicked the youths, and the boys' daily diet consisted of only an apple, a carrot and a bowl of beans.

Haynes' death is only one of several examples of alleged abuse which have brought boot camps under scrutiny in recent years. In July 1999, a 14-year-old girl died after a forced run at a South Dakota state-run girls' boot camp. In 1998, a 16-year-old boy died of a heart attack at the privately run Arizona Boys Ranch near Oracle, Ariz.

In Florida that same year, a 16-year-old committed suicide after being assigned to a juvenile boot camp.

Despite these deaths and allegations of abuse, some experts say parents should not fear state-run or the private boot camps.

"It [abuse] occurs very rarely, death even more rarely," said R. Dean Wright, professor of sociology at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. "Anytime you have a situation where there's any kind of procedure and heavy regiment involved, inevitably something is going to happen."

Col. Phil Torres doesn't even want the state-run military structured program he helps operate in Kenbridge, Va., to be called a "boot camp." He dreads the inevitable comparisons.

"It's devastating," said Torres, director of Rebound Camp Kenbridge. "Anytime there's a serious incident, people do not differentiate from one program in another state to another program in another state. They like to lump us all in the same category."

Fall From Grace

The first juvenile boot camp opened in Orleans Parish, La., in 1985, modeled after the first prison boot camp that had been established for adults in Georgia in 1983. It paved the way and provided a model for other camps that were opened nationwide over the next 10 years.

At first, the camps had the full support of the public and state legislators. The image of juvenile offenders being rehabilitated and disciplined by barking drill sergeants gave the public evidence that juvenile crime (albeit non-violent offenders who had not been previously incarcerated) was being fought successfully, without the use of prisons.