Texas Military Schools

Texas operates one of the country's largest juvenile corrections systems, which consists of 15 correctional institutions and nine halfway houses for youth ages 12 to 18.1 Some of these programs, such as Sheffield Boot Camp (about 100 miles south of Midland), advertise a paramilitary style. Inmates, known as "cadets," participate in marches, inspections, and hard physical training in a regime that imitates the Armed Services' basic training programs. The state's budget for the military boot camps and schools is over $20 million per year to serve about 2,800 juvenile offenders.2

Because the state system is so large and so well-known, many Texas parents get the idea that military schools and boot camps are effective in helping troubled youth. The truth is that the Texas system has been riddled with problems. First, the Texas Youth Commission, which runs the system, cannot prove that military-style programs are effective in keeping teenagers from becoming repeat offenders.3 Second, the entire juvenile system was rocked in 2007 with the worst prison scandal in state history. More than 750 boys told authorities and parents they had been sexually molested by prison guards and other staff members, including top administration. Jay Kimbrough, appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to investigate the charges, proved 88 of the allegations true and found that the majority of allegations eventually would be confirmed as true. Kimbrough also discovered that 111 employees of the juvenile system were convicted felons, and another 437 had histories of misdemeanor arrests.4

Although the scandal is making Texans reconsider military programs for troubled youth, there are still some privately run boot camps and military schools for troubled youth in Texas. It is difficult to find them on the Internet. Usually, you have to fill out forms and call an 800-number before you can get the name of such a school or boot camp. Many of these programs are not reputable and have records of abuse and injuries. Often their staff members are retired military personnel or police officers who know how to imitate Army boot camp style, but who have no education or understanding of adolescent psychology, drug addiction, mental illness, and other issues that plague troubled teens. Because they are ill-trained and ill-educated, these staff members are not able to help teens turn their lives around on a long-term basis.5

A search for schools in Texas will likely produce the names of two private military schools, the Marine Military Academy and the Baptist San Marcos Academy, but these are not for troubled teens.6 These are college-prep boarding schools with high standards of acceptance. Parents can find several reputable therapeutic boarding schools and working ranches for troubled youth in Texas that are excellent alternatives to military programs.

If you are considering a military boarding school or boot camp program in Texas, keep in mind that many parts of the state have severe weather conditions in diverse terrain ranging from desert and mountains to swamplands. Since 1985, more than 40 teens have died in boot camps and other programs designed to help troubled youth.7 Most of these deaths were caused by dehydration in hot weather or by pushing a child with undiagnosed physical problems too hard and ignoring his pleas for rest.

Many military schools want a semester or more of tuition up front and will not refund your money if your teen does not complete his program. Since many teens enrolled in correctional military programs are defiant and hard to manage, some do not complete their programs and thus their parents are out thousands of dollars.8

Finally, if you are seeking a program in Texas because you want to keep your child close to home, keep in mind that she will meet other troubled teens from your area. Some of them may be undesirable companions who are further into drugs and criminal offenses than your child. When your child comes home, she may seek out these friends. Many parents have had better luck sending their child to an out-of-state program that is non-military based with a proven track record of long-term success in helping troubled teens.

1 "About The Texas Youth Commission," the Texas Youth Commission Web site at www.tyc.state.tx.us/.

2 McGraw, Seamus. "Teen Boot Camp: A Deadly Decision?" Readers Digest, June 2005.

3 Brewer, Johanna. "North Texas Boot Camp Tries to Turn Juvenile Offenders Around," The Herald Democrat, Feb. 8, 1998.

4 Witt, Howard. "Youth Prison Guards Face Sex Counts," Chicago Tribune, Dec. 8, 2007. See www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-paris_wittdec08,1,512058.story.

5 Boot Camp Parent Self-Help Kit, posted at www.bootcampdvd.net/options.php

6 See San Marcos Academy Web site at www.smba.org/index.htm and the Marine Military Academy Web site at www.mma-tx.org. Seaborne Challenge Corps is a public military training program for at-risk youth. See www.tamug.edu/seaborne.

7 Selcraig, Bruce. "Torturing Kids for Fun and Profit," Mother Jones, December 2000.

8 Boot Camp Parent Self-Help Kit, op cit.

Fast Facts About Adolescents

Almost 30 percent of teens in the United States (over 5.7 million people) are estimated to be involved in school bullying. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6 to 10, 13 percent reported bullying others, 11 percent reported being the target of school bullies, and another 6 percent said they bullied others and were bullied themselves.

Military Schools in Texas