Academic journal article Social Work Research

Testing the Problem Syndrome among Young Males in Boot Camp: Use of Theoretical Elaboration with Reciprocal Relationships

Academic journal article Social Work Research

Testing the Problem Syndrome among Young Males in Boot Camp: Use of Theoretical Elaboration with Reciprocal Relationships

Article excerpt

The study discussed in this article is the first theoretical study of young people entering boot camp. The sample in the present study consisted of 326 males, ages 15 to 24, in the only boot camp in Arkansas. The purpose of the study was to test the problem syndrome argument by factor analysis of items measuring drug use, property crimes, and crimes against people to see if they loaded onto one factor or syndrome as proposed by the argument and examination of the same theoretical model to determine if it sufficed to explain these three types of problem behavior as assumed in the argument. The model consists of reciprocal relationships and represents an elaboration of social control theory with elements from social learning theory.

Key words: boot camp; crimes against persons; drug use; property crimes

Two recent national surveys, data from the 1995 Household Survey on Drug Use (Gfroerer, 1996) and the Monitoring the Future Study (Johnston, O'Malley, & Bachman, 1996) show a significant increase in illicit drug use among young people in this country. The sharp rise in prevalence rates of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, hallucinogen, and methamphetamine use are of particular concern to many professionals because of the aversive outcomes associated with these drugs such as addiction, crime, spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and death (Akers, 1992; Decker & Rosenfeld, 1992; Leavitt, 1995; Lurigio & Davis, 1992; Stimmel, 1993).

Despite the magnitude of youthful drug use and associated problems, the precise nature and sequence of processes leading to use and abuse of drugs remains uncertain (Akers, 1992; Leavitt, 1995). Yet effective intervention relies on theory as a guide for what motivations are most likely to lead to behavioral change (Andrews & Bonta, 1994). In fact, evidence indicates that programs based on useful theory are five times more effective than are those lacking an underlying theoretical framework (Izzo & Ross, 1990). Although drug users are entering boot camps in increasing numbers because of their high proportion among youths who qualify for boot camp programs, a thorough review of the literature indicates that there are no theoretical studies of people entering boot camps (Cronin, 1994; Zhang, 1998). The present investigation is the first theoretical study of people in boot camp, and it is relevant to program design in confirming what factors influence drug-using, criminal lifestyles.


The hypothesized model (see Figure 1) is constructed on the basis of conceptualizations in related literature on youthful offenders (see reviews, Akers, 1992, 1997; Bartol & Bartol, 1998; Elliott, Huizinga & Ageton, 1985; Elliott, Huizinga, & Menard, 1989; Walters, 1994) and on experiential knowledge of boot camps. (I have served as a participatory consultant and have carried out several research projects at this boot camp for about five years. The conceptualization also comes from extensive discussions with other professionals working in this boot camp for many years.)


The present study examines elements of control (Durkheim, 1897/1951; Hirschi, 1969) and social learning (Akers, 1992, 1997) theories thought to be the most useful to conceptual understanding and to program design. Also, reviews of the literature on boot camps suggest that these theories are likely to be the most useful to boot camp programs (Benda & Toombs, 1997; Benda, Toombs, & Whiteside, 1996; Cronin, 1994; Zhang, 1998). The model is constructed using theoretical elaboration (Thornberry, 1989) instead of attempting to fully integrate (see Akers, 1997) two theories that rest on contradictory assumptions about motivations for drug use and crime (see Agnew, 1995). A true integration of these theories would require resolution of differences in assumptions (see Hirschi, 1979), whereas theoretical elaboration requires that propositions of the hypothesized model be consistent (Thornberry, 1989). …

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