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For misbehaving kids: a mini boot camp

The one-day program offers drill instructor-type discipline, exercise, anti-drug talks and anger management classes.

By CURTIS KRUEGER

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2000


LARGO -- Note to kids: If your parents threaten to send you to boot camp to whip you into shape, listen up.

Starting July 8, they can actually do it.

photo
[Times photo: Jamie Francis]
Boot camp "recruits" wait for their drill instructor. The new Saturday camp, which will start July 8, is for kids headed for serious trouble, rather than in it.
Using a $34,000 grant from the state Department of Juvenile Justice, the Pinellas County Boot Camp is about to begin a Saturday program for boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 17.

It is designed to allow parents to send misbehaving youths to the boot camp for a one-day, 12-hour session of physical training, drug and alcohol awareness, anger management and other programs.

The session could be "a little wake-up call" for incorrigible youths, said boot camp Sgt. Tim Slaughter.

The kids whose parents sign them up for the program will wear old-fashioned white-and-black-striped convict outfits and endure the harsh words of screaming drill instructors. By the end of the day, the boot camp staff hopes youths will understand that "you kids are special and you need to do the right thing," said Lt. Thomas W. Smith, the boot camp commander.

The boot camp, near the Pinellas County Jail near Largo, is financed by the state and operated by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office for youths who have committed crimes. Most "recruits" are between 14 and 17 and stay at the camp for at least eight months. All are boys, and have been sentenced by judges into the juvenile justice system.

In regular boot camp, boys face shouting drill instructors, countless push-ups and military-style haircuts, and they learn military drill and ceremony. At the same time they attend a special school and participate in programs designed to steer them clear of criminal activity in the future.

The Saturday program will be sort of a crash course for youths with less severe problems. It will be less harsh, but designed to make children think about where they might be headed if they skip school and commit crimes.

After a "welcome'' from the drill instructors and some sort of physical exercise, the group of youths will discuss the dangers of alcohol and tobacco; ways of managing their anger; and how to resolve conflicts nonviolently. They also will receive a lunch, snacks and a certificate.

Smith said it's hard to predict just now how the youths will react to wearing the prison stripes.

"Our guess is that it's going to be a shock, like "Oh geez, what did I get myself into?' '' he said. He said he hopes the message that eventually will settle in participants' minds is "there's a consequence for your actions.''

Each group will consist of either boys or girls, but not both. This is the first time a Pinellas boot camp program has been open to girls. Youths in the Saturday program will not interact with the regular boot camp recruits.

The program is designed for youths who are constantly getting into trouble at home, such as by failing to attend school, disobeying parental rules, staying out late at night and so on. It is not designed for kids who have committed several serious crimes.

On the Thursday night before each Saturday session, parents will attend a meeting to learn what their children are in for.

In deciding whom to accept into the program, the boot camp staff will consider whether the youths have brothers or sisters who have been arrested, live in a high-crime neighborhood, habitually miss school, come from single-parent homes, have discipline problems in school, have been charged with crimes in the juvenile justice system, have been victims of abuse, are not performing well in school, or have substance abuse or mental health problems, among other things.

To receive an information packet about the program, call (727) 453-7078. It is open only to Pinellas County residents.

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