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Boot camps need to be reformed, not closed down

The recent death of a 14-year-old boy in the Department of Juvenile Justice's Bay County Boot Camp will lead some critics to suggest the program should be abandoned.

For the benefit of offenders as well as taxpayers, Tallahassee officials should instead see this as an opportunity to benefit from the experience of the many successful boot camp programs operating around the nation.

Clearly, boot camp staff should not be allowed to physically brutalize offenders in their custody, an action that would result in felony assault charges in many states.

Officials should look at the failing track record nationally of boot camp programs that rely upon aversion therapy. That rejected notion suggests that if the state makes imprisonment harsh and uncomfortable enough, parolees will behave simply because they do not want to return to those harsh penal conditions.

Far more successful nationally are those boot camp programs that instead mandate that young offenders participate in academic, counseling and other programs. They offer far more opportunity for offenders to "get their heads on straight" and to be successful upon their release.

The "win-win" results, some states have found, are these: Offenders get a new start with some tools that will help many be successful on the street, while taxpayers benefit from every offender who is not returned to prison. New York's boot camp program has documented more than a billion dollars in such savings since 1987 - along with a substantial reduction in the rate of offenders returning to prison.

The Department of Juvenile Justice is, hopefully, now undergoing a thoughtful review of its boot camp policies in the wake of this tragedy.

There is no "silver bullet" to eradicate crime by juveniles or adults. But states must have a number of arrows in their quivers with which to attack crime. Boot camps can be one of them.

James B. Flateau, Land O'Lakes

(The writer recently moved to Pasco County after 21 years as chief spokesman for New York's state prison system.)

The behavior of thugs

Re: Martin Lee Anderson.

Well everyone finally got to see the tape of the young Anderson boy being beaten. When I saw this tape I thought: What a bunch of thugs! These people are running a boot camp? How stupid do they think we are by saying this boy died of natural causes due to a sickle cell trait?

I am retired from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, where I was a correctional officer, and not once would our office have tolerated this. We would have been on leave immediately until Internal Affairs had investigated.

It is apparent to me that, in this instance, the wrong person was in boot camp. Perhaps these thugs would like to trade places and see what it would be like to be beaten down.

Just maybe the boot camp thing is not what it started out to be and definitely should be abolished immediately.

My thoughts and prayers go out to this young man's family and I hope that the family gets the justice that they deserve.

Ruth Batting, Tampa

Boot camp can change lives

Re: Lock up, break down, Feb. 19.

My grandson came to live with me in 1999. I discovered he was becoming a pretty accomplished thief in 2003. I turned him in to the police and he was sent to Pinellas boot camp. The first time I visited was after he had been there about three months. He was thin and pale.

He made the Pinellas dean's list that grading period and every grading period he was there. Next time I visited (two weeks later) he looked better. He said the drill instructors were really tough but he didn't feel it was personal.

Boot camp came along when my grandson was at a crossroads and changed his life. He will graduate from high school this May and works full time at Publix. I am proud of him and he has pride in himself. This grandmother's only complaint: I wish they would feed those growing boys more.

Carolyn Covell, New Port Richey

Focus on the victims, too

Sunday's Times, on the front page: a closeup of tears streaming down the face of a boot camp recruit. "Follow a new crop of boot camp detainees through their first day; a day when they lose their freedom . . ."

Give me a break. Please, follow up with a Sunday, front-page story about the victims' loss of freedom because of the break-ins, burglaries, muggings, battery, drug pushing and grand theft committed by these tearful recruits.

G.W. Powers, St. Petersburg

Inspections strive to protect the public

Recent articles regarding hotel and restaurant inspections inaccurately portray the Division of Hotels and Restaurants.

While all inspections are important, there are certain types which are not credited to our annual mandate yet are vital to protecting the public's health. Your articles failed to reveal that approximately 23,000 "call back" inspections are performed annually to verify correction of previously cited violations. Additionally, the division performed more than 18,000 emergency response visits after the 2004 and 2005 hurricanes, ensuring that licensees safely returned to operation providing crucial food and water resources.

Handheld inspection devices were mischaracterized as unsuccessful. Quite the contrary, they represent our efforts to improve inspections through the utilization of the most modern technology. We are pioneers in this area and are proud of what we've accomplished.

The division does not grade, rate or otherwise categorize food establishments primarily because there is no scientific evidence showing these measures provide a positive public health impact. However, the department has launched a consumer-friendly online search for inspections which is available at www.MyFloridaLicense.com. There, a citizen can see exactly how a favorite restaurant did on its most recent inspection.

We recognize that there is always room for improvement. Ultimately, the public is better served today than ever before. The division will continue to work hard to ensure that all Floridians and visitors are protected.

Simone Marstiller, secretary, Department of Business

and Professional Regulation, Tallahassee

Give this family a break

Re: No kids, even if dad is at war, Feb. 18.

I read this article with much disgust. I can understand why Riviera Estates has its policies. If the previous manager gave written permission, why is the park management taking a hard line?

Thomas Boyette is helping his family. It is not a permanent situation. His son is serving this country in a war zone, the way he did. The kids are not being a nuisance. What is the problem?

The way the park management is acting, they should take down the "support our troops" flag and put up a "dogs and soldiers' families, keep off the grass" sign. Give these people a break.

Sean Sullivan, Clearwater

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