About State Programs for Troubled Teens

Families with troubled teens often find it difficult to choose the right program to help their child 1. There are many private and public programs for different problems teens experience. State-funded programs usually focus on a few specific problem behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse and juvenile delinquency.


State programs for troubled teens are funded by the state for the purpose of rehabilitating teens who are behaviorally at risk 1. Usually state programs function as an alternative to juvenile detention; teens who are convicted of a crime are given the option of attending a rehabilitation program instead of serving time in a detention center.


Most residential state-funded programs for teens are boot camps 1. These are programs modeled after military boot camp. They use strict discipline, exercise and therapy to teach teens respect and responsibility.

States also offer outpatient and residential therapy programs for teens with specific issues, particularly substance abuse.

Time Frame

When used as an alternative to detention, boot camps usually last from three to 12 months. Teens who are placed in a boot camp are not allowed to leave until their sentence is finished.

Outpatient programs can last for any length; depending on the type of offense and the program, some continue until the teen reaches age 18.


Long-term programs have a better rate of success than short-term programs. Boot camps can be effective for teens whose behavior problems developed recently and have not existed over a long period of time 1. However, for teens with ongoing problems, boot camps have a high recidivism rate 1. According to a study by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service, the recidivism rate for boot camps is the same as that for juvenile detention centers 1. Most experts recommend that teens continue outpatient therapy after completing boot camp.


The "tough love" treatment of state-run boot camps is controversial and has frequently come under scrutiny. In 2007, the death of a Florida boot camp inmate who was beaten by the guards sparked outrage and concern. Although the guards were found not guilty, Florida closed all of its military-style boot camps for juveniles as a result of the inquiry 1.