Wednesday, August 11, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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No Cell, Just `Boot Camp' -- Idaho Prison Attempts To Change Attitudes, Instill Pride, Discipline

THE IDEA OF GUIDING prisoners toward reform is part of the reason Washington will open its own "work-ethic" camp this fall.

COTTONWOOD, Idaho - The eyes of convicted robber James Glenn don't so much as flicker when the prison guard comes through.

As he perches bolt upright in the middle of his metal bunk, his line of vision and his spit-shined boots stay firmly fixed toward the back of the man seated on the bunk in front of him.

It's official count time for the 215 inmates at Idaho's prison "boot camp" and all is quiet inside this old World War II bunkhouse. The faint whistle of wind trickles through the evergreens towering outside the unfenced prison yard.

But Glenn's mind, he says later, is zigzagging between anxiety and a new sense of personal resolve. Tomorrow he must pass his GED (general educational development) test, for which he's been studying for weeks, and soon he'll learn whether he ranks as a success or failure here.

"Don't be stupid and screw up," he keeps telling himself. "You can't afford to screw up."

Glenn, a soft-spoken 20-year-old, seems an unlikely candidate for punishment at the North Idaho Correctional Institution, a paramilitary-style boot camp. He comes from a stable family, a middle-class background and high expectations.

But a year ago in May, he was sky-high on crack cocaine and pointing a pistol at a convenience-store clerk in Nampa, Idaho.

He was so numbed by the drugs that he has only one mental snapshot to refer to: pacing outside the store trying to muster the nerve for a holdup.

Now Idaho prison officials are trying to use the regimented environment at Cottonwood to help him and other first-time offenders go straight.

Prison camps like this one are drawing widespread interest from lawmakers in Washington and elsewhere. Twenty-six states and the federal government operate 58 of them, and President Clinton has promoted them to help fight crime.

Washington state plans to open its first "work ethic camp," which will differ from Cottonwood in some ways, this fall for men and a small number of women at the McNeil Island Corrections Center. And Oregon's Legislature just gave approval last week for a military-style program next year.

The theory behind these programs is this: Give young, first-time offenders a strong sense of discipline, a good dose of self-esteem and some of the basic tools necessary to be responsible citizens and maybe they won't end up in prison again.

The growing expense of building prisons and hiring guards is beginning to weigh heavily on state budgets.

Some 18,000 people are convicted of felonies in Washington state every year. Though just over one-quarter are sentenced to state prison, Corrections Secretary Chase Riveland predicts the state will have to create 1,000 new prison beds every two years.

Supporters of Idaho's boot-camp model are among those who say the public ought to demand more from prisoners themselves - namely, a commitment to change.

But will six months of regimen, education and work help young offenders stay clean?

Goal includes changing attitudes

Just about anyone but a murderer is welcome at Cottonwood's Rider Program.

Last year, 632 inmates ranging from 15-year-old boys to men in their 60s and 70s entered Idaho's boot camp. Roughly 80 percent left as "successful" graduates.

Their reward: early release.

Those who display significant progress toward their education or job goals and a positive attitude are likely to be given a recommendation for parole by the prison's three-member jurisdictional board.

It's a dicey proposition trying to remold the attitudes of young, budding criminals, the vast majority of whom grew up in broken homes or dysfunctional families and enter the gates hooked on drugs or alcohol.

Still, Cottonwood Warden Jim Rehder and his staff, ranging from professional counselors to the ex-Marines working as guards, express an unwavering belief in what they're doing.

"If you can hit these people at the appropriate time with the right values and messages, you can get them to get back to good living," says Rehder.

While the military program has been an effective management tool since it was instituted in 1989, Rehder also believes it helps build prisoners' sense of self-worth.

"If you're out of step while marching, it makes your whole unit look bad and affects everybody else. It's much the same way in society. If you're out of step and breaking laws, you're not going to fit in too well."

There won't be anyone shouting cadence or buffing boots at Washington's McNeil Island "work-ethic camp." Riveland, the corrections secretary, is a skeptic of military-style programs and made it clear to legislators he wouldn't support one.

Washington's six-month camp also will be more selective, available only to men and women between the ages of 18 and 28 who have been convicted of non-violent crimes.

Washington officials vow to keep the first 109 enrollees (90 men and 19 women) just as busy and motivated as those in Idaho. They're developing a curriculum that focuses more on work and reinforcing the traditional work ethic.

Some jobs programs and self-help classes exist in other Washington prisons. But Bernie Warner, assistant director for policy at the Department of Corrections, says the McNeil camp will mark the agency's first concerted effort to change inmates' attitude and behavior.

Those who successfully complete the program will be eligible to have time shaved off their prison sentences, though they must still serve some time on probation.

State Rep. Dave Lemmon, a freshman Democrat from Yakima who sponsored Washington's legislation, says he's convinced it's time to try something different, to devote some resources to young adults and juvenile offenders whose lives may still be salvageable.

"Instead of looking at straight punishment, we need to look at what's causing the problem," he said. "I mean, all these guys in prison were once cute 7-year-olds. Something's gone wrong."

March to chow, march to class

"Looks like we got ourselves eight new fish," Glenn says as he hovers outside the dorm with other inmates during an afternoon smoke break.

Eight men in plum-colored overalls are being marched around with another shaven-haired crew from Dorm 3. The "fish," as the new arrivals are nicknamed, just stepped off the bus from the prison processing center in Boise.

Cottonwood's main gate, in a white picket fence, stands wide open. But camp boundaries are clearly laid out.

So are the rules: No laughing or talking in the chow hall. Keep bunks and personal areas inspection-ready at all times. No borrowing or bumming cigarettes from other inmates. Stick to the schedule, from reveille at 0530 to the moment lights go out at 2300 hours at night. Try sneaking out for a cigarette after curfew at 2100 and you can count on getting written up for an attempted escape.

March to breakfast. March to class. March whenever the guards feel like making you march.

It's pull back your shoulders, pull up your chest and "Yes, sir, no sir," to anyone who walks within 20 feet and isn't an inmate.

Corrections guard Clay Kibbee strides breezily into the television room in Dorm 3 as three other inmates help the "fish" get acquainted with boot camp.

"Now it's real important for you people to follow the rules. That's one of the reasons you're here. You're not following the rules," Kibbee says matter-of-factly.

"How many people have been in juvenile detention before?"

One hand goes up.

"You're not a teenager anymore, you're an adult. Act your age," he says, balancing the tone between stern fatherly advice and a military command. "You've got an awful good opportunity to change your lives. I hope you do it."

Getting the message - or not

James Glenn admits he's always had a hard time following rules. Especially the ones laid down by his parents:

Don't go to school dances. Don't get involved with sports, they would say. Don't make friends with anyone but the kids at church. God knows what's best for you.

Growing up as the elder of two children in Nampa, population 30,000, Glenn bought into their message when he was young and tagged along with his parents when they knocked on doors to spread the word.

But in adolescence, fitting in with his peers at school was all he could think of.

Soon he was cutting classes, threatening teachers and punching holes in walls.

He started sneaking out to drink beer with "the party crowd" when he was 14. He latched onto drugs three years later, the same year he dropped out of school.

"Drugs let me be free and took all the problems away," Glenn said. Until that night with the gun at the convenience store.

Now gaining his GED has become his No. 1 goal. While boning up on literature, math and science, he has also enrolled in Cottonwood's classes on budgeting and buying, family dynamics, self-concepts and job-search skills. Weekly meetings with Narcotics Anonymous help keep him sober.

With absolute self-confidence, Glenn says he plans to stay out of trouble once he leaves Cottonwood later this month. He and his parents patched things up, and he's cut himself off from his drug-using friends.

The people at Cottonwood figure he's got a shot at being one of their success stories.

But the boot-camp training doesn't always take. Take Jodie Dean, a 24-year-old from Tacoma.

"This is a joke," he says with a mischievous smile. "All this marching around in shining boots. It's good for someone going into the military, but we're not in the military. We're all convicted felons."

He was skipping around the prison yard, thinking he had passed the test and was on his way home. His friends at Cottonwood, marveling at how well he played the role of the dutiful inmate, were sure he'd be back in prison anyway.

They were right. Within hours, a judge took the advice of Cottonwood counselors and put Dean right back behind bars. He'll have to serve the remainder of his sentence for pistol-whipping a couple of men in a bar.

Studies question effectiveness

Despite their political popularity, scientific research hasn't done much to back up the effectiveness of boot camps.

Inmates do feel their attitudes change for the better. But Maryland criminologist Doris MacKenzie has found that most of the prisoners have a hard time carrying that positive outlook through into civilian life. She's just completed a study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice on eight boot camps around the country.

Her research shows that, over time, boot-camp graduates end up with the same statistical prospects for returning to crime as inmates from traditional state prisons.

"It's not that they need a longer boot camp, but some opportunities and follow-up once they get out," MacKenzie said. She suggested more substance-abuse treatment and community support to stay clean.

More often than not, she said, boot-camp graduates end up right back where their troubles started: in an environment where families or friends accept or even encourage substance abuse.

A report released in April by the U.S. General Accounting Office also discounts some notions that boot camps are cheaper to operate. If states are able to cut costs, it's mainly because inmates are being released earlier, the GAO concluded.

Nonetheless, some in Washington's criminal justice system are willing to give the camp approach a try, if only because they've been unable to persuade legislators to reconsider the state's penchant for lengthy incarceration.

It's much easier telling a jittery public that some inmates will have to work their way through prison than to suggest they be punished differently simply because the state is running out of bed space.

And that's fine with King County Superior Court Judge Robert Lasnik. He figures boot camps may help the Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which he chairs, reach its goal of prison reform.

He's already referred several first-time drug offenders to the work-ethic program so they can get on the list of 1993 inductees.

On the other hand, he and Riveland aren't expecting miracles.

"People would like simple solutions for very expensive social problems," the corrections head said. "We'll have an exhaustive program and hopefully we can teach some skills and get some attitudinal change. I see this as a test more than anything else."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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