Close juvenile boot camps, legislator says

His proposal comes a week after a teen died after entering a Panhandle camp. But some lawmakers support the camps.

Associated Press
Published January 12, 2006

TALLAHASSEE - A Republican lawmaker wants the state to close its military-style boot camps for juvenile offenders.

State Rep. Gus Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, chairman of the House Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, called for eliminating the camps the week after 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson died shortly after entering such a camp in Panama City.

"These programs are not working. ... We need to shut these things down," Barreiro said Wednesday.

But his counterpart in the Senate, Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said he still supports the camps.

"Every once in a while something happens," Wise said. "It happens in prisons. It happens in real life, too. ... It's a shame. ... We just have to make sure we try to fix it."

Gov. Jeb Bush said lawmakers should take a hard look at the camps.

"When you look at recidivism rates, they have had a proven record of success," Bush said. "When you have a case where a child dies, you need to pause and do the necessary investigations."

He said policies at the boot camps across the state may need to be standardized.

"I'm looking forward to seeing what the investigation yields," Bush said.

The state Department of Juvenile Justice's records show that 62 percent of graduates from the several camps around the state are arrested again after being released - a rate experts call high. The camps are run by county sheriffs' offices under contract from the state.

"Boot camps don't work," said Aaron McNeese, dean of Florida State University's College of Social Work, which has done some of the research.

Cynthia Lorenzo, a Department of Juvenile Justice spokeswoman, said the department is reviewing all of the sheriff's offices' policies for the camps in light of Anderson's death.

Anderson was sent to the Bay County Sheriff's Office camp after a June arrest for grand theft. He was doing push-ups, sit-ups and other exercises as part of the intake process Jan. 5 when he became uncooperative and had to be restrained, authorities said. He soon complained of breathing difficulties and collapsed. He was transferred to a Pensacola hospital and died early the next morning.

On Tuesday, Anderson's family filed an intent to sue. The family's attorney, Ben Crump, said the boy appeared to have been abused - he suffered a cut lip, a bloody nose and a scrape on the side of his face when he was restrained. A sheriff's spokeswoman denied that.

The victim's mother, Gina Jones, said her son was in good physical shape and enjoyed playing basketball. Anderson was about 6-foot-1 and weighed about 140 pounds, she said.

The Department of Juvenile Justice gave the Bay County camp a good review in a June 2004 quality assurance report, listing it as being in full compliance with state standards.

Sheriff's investigators have not completed a preliminary report on Anderson's death.