Camp Outlook, the state’s only military-style boot camp for incarcerated teens, will close for good after the current platoon graduates May 20.
The program and its unique treatment model are a casualty of state budget cuts. Twenty-two staff members will be impacted by the closure, including 11 members of the drill staff who are current or former military.
“It’s with deep sadness the program is closed,” said Harold Wright, camp director. “What we have done here for the last 18 years shows for itself.”
The decision came down to a lack of state money and a trend in the juvenile justice system to keep low-risk offenders out of lockup, said Hilary Young, who works for Pioneer Human Services, the Seattle-based nonprofit that runs the camp.
The state entirely pays for Camp Outlook from the general fund, Young said. As a result of significant state money being allocated to mental health and education, the camp was on the outside looking in when cuts came down.
Young, who represented Pioneer’s programs across the state during the legislative session, says there has been significant pressure on the state budget.
“A lot of state programs have seen budget cuts over the years,” she said. “They have gotten down to what else is left, and frankly there isn’t a lot that isn’t mandated.”
The number of teens who are eligible to participate in the camp — which combines a military structure, therapy and education into its treatment model — has dwindled over the years, officials said.
Teens must choose to come to Camp Outlook, which accepts girls and boys between 14 and 19. It does not accept serious violent offenders, sex offenders or youths with arson convictions.
A majority of the teens are gang-affiliated, come from broken homes and have been in the juvenile system since they were young.
Wright and other staffers visit juvenile facilities around the state to recruit teens, and a platoon can vary in size from two to about 10. Though kids who attend the camp have a wide variety of convictions, many are locked up for thefts, burglaries or drug-related charges.
As the philosophy of locking up youths instead of rehabilitating them in other ways has faded away, so has the idea that a military-style boot camp is the best model for reform, Young and Wright said.
“A decade ago, the trend was more toward ‘lock them up,’ and now it’s more how to treat and divert,” Young said.
Military boot camps may be eliminated, Young said, but she noted that Camp Outlook has had such success throughout the years that many pieces of its rehabilitation model will be used in other programs for juvenile offenders.
Besides its military structure and physical fitness requirements, the camp offers leadership training, drug and alcohol education, problem-solving and aggression replacement skills, and an education component that allows teens to earn high-school credits. There is also resume and job skill training.
A 2004 study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy showed that participation in the camp significantly reduced recidivism in felony offenders, according to Pioneer.
Most of all, officials say it’s the relationships many teens develop with the staff at the camp that allow them to trust adults and respect authority. Each platoon is paired with a counselor and head drill instructor who see them through the program.
Those strong relationships were evident when Wright announced to staff that the camp would be closing, he said. The first thing to come to their minds was the well-being of the teens.
“When you heard (the staff) talk about it, they talked about it in a way like ‘what’s going to happen to these kids now? What are these kids going to do?’ ” Wright said.
The teens have accepted the challenge of being the last to walk past the razor-wire fence and back into society, Wright said. All but one will be released home when they graduate.
“The kids are excited about being the last platoon,” Wright said. “They are excited about continuing a trend that started 18 years ago.”