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A behavior modification facility (or Youth Residential Program) is a private, residential educational institution to which parents send adolescents perceived as displaying asocial behavior in an attempt to alter their conduct. A number of such facilities are operated in the United States. Others operate in Mexico, Jamaica and Costa Rica, but are run primarily for the children of U.S. parents. The most notable organizations operating such programs is the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP) and Aspen Education Group operating facilities such as Tranquility Bay and the Spring Creek Lodge Academy.

The behavior modification methodologies used vary, but typically, a combination of positive and negative reinforcement is used. Positive reinforcement mechanisms include points, rewards and signs of status, while negative reinforcement may include time-outs, point deductions, reversal of status, prolonged stays at a facility, physical restraint, or even corporal punishment.

Effectiveness

Evaluation programs generally have not found support for boot camp programs on recividism but subjects had large increases on academic skills [1] The largest problem with boot camps were that they create an artifical environment for skill development [2]

On the other hand programs built from the applied behavior analysis tradition appear to show reduction in recividism [3][4] and large increases in learning even from their earliest applications [5]. Some of the more controversial elements of behavior modification facilities have been eliminated by requiring staff to be certified by the Teaching Family Association or the Behavior Analysis Certification BoardBACB. Currerntly there is a push for all behavior modifiers to either be licensed psychologists or licensed behavior analysts (see professional practice of behavior analysis ).

Controversy

Behavior modification facilities are highly controversial. Lawsuits have been filed against some organizations due to allegations of mental or physical abuse, and advocacy groups such as the "International Survivors Action Committee" have been formed to spread information about alleged "abuse, civil rights violations, and fraud perpetuated through privately-owned facilities for juveniles" (ISAC web site). Besides severely criticizing the methodology of behavior modification, these organizations allege that the process by which teens are sent to facilities abroad frequently resembles kidnapping, and that the behavioral issues for which teens are sent to the programs are often minor or subject to debate (such as "provocative clothing" in girls). Many uses of the facilities are seen as an overreaction to the process of puberty.

The organizations in question reject these allegations. One common response is that teenagers who complain about the programs are in denial of their own misconduct or lying. Allegations of abuse are portrayed as drastic exaggerations; the programs are defended as being as strict as they need to be in order to effect the desired behavioral change. Furthermore, responses to criticism often emphasize the balance of positive and negative feedback, and the daily activities of juveniles at the facilities, such as sports, games, mental exercises, and physical labor.

References & Bibliography

  1. Petersen, E., (1996). Juvenile boot camps: Lessons learned [1]
  2. Correia, M.E. (1997). Boot camps, excercise, and delinqueny. An Analytic Critique of the use of excercise to fasclitate decreases in delinquent behavior. 13, 94-113
  3. Kingsley, D.E. (2006): The Teaching-Family Model and Post-Treatment Recidivism: A Critical Review of the Conventional Wisdom. IJBCT, 2.(4), 481-495BAO
  4. Kingsley, D., Ringle, J. L., Thompson, R. W., Chmelka, B., & Ingram, S. (2008). Cox Proportional Hazards Regression Analysis as a Modeling Technique for Informing Program Improvement: Predicting Recidivism in a Boys Town Five-Year Follow-up Study. Journal of Behavior Analysis in Offender and Victim: Treatment and Prevention, 1(1) 82-97.BAO
  5. Cohen, H.L. & Filipczak, J. (1971). A new learning environment. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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