Lee's dream comes true with camp's 500th grad

By Lynn R. Parks

Since it was established in 1997, 500 inmates have gone through the state Department of Correction's boot camp in Georgetown. Gov. Ruth Ann Minner presided over graduation ceremonies at the boot camp last Thursday and hailed the program as a success. "It is important to find different ways to reach offenders before they turn into serious career criminals," Minner told about 75 people who had gathered for the graduation of the boot camp's 23rd class. "This is one such program. Delaware's boot camp provides the discipline and the programming that can put these offenders on the path to becoming law-abiding and productive citizens." The boot camp was established by legislation sponsored by state Rep. Biff Lee, Laurel. Lee was among the dignitaries who attended last week's graduation. Minner told the crowd that of the 689 participants in the four-year history of the boot camp, 526, or 76 percent, graduated. Of those participants, 98 percent had felony arrests on their records. Twenty-five percent of the cadets have felony arrests 18 months after graduation, a reduction Minner called "significant." "That means fewer ex-offenders committing fewer new crimes," she said. "That in turn means we are much less likely to be victims of felony crime. I want Delawareans to feel safe in their homes. The Sussex boot camp is doing a good job in rehabilitating offenders."

The boot camp is located in a $3.7 million facility in Georgetown which houses 100 inmates: 90 men and 10 women. It is designed for inmates who have been sentenced to jail time for non-violent crimes or for probation violations (if the original offense was non-violent). First-time drug offenders are also allowed to participate in the program. Participants must be 18 and residents of Delaware. "The idea behind the boot camp is to turn around these offenders before they turn into more serious criminals," according to Stan Taylor, correction commissioner. "This is an alternative to prison, and just what some inmates need to leave our custody as productive, motivated individuals." Each boot camp session lasts six months. A new class starts every two months; members of the 24th and 25th classes also participated in Thursday's ceremony. The program is divided into three phases, the first of which focuses on military-style discipline. The drill instructors are graduates of the U.S. Army's boot camp training in Fort McClellan, Ala., and of the New York Department of Correction's Lakeview Boot Camp for inmates. The second phase centers on drug treatment and community service projects. According to the Department of Correction, since the boot camp's opening its cadets have performed 165,000 hours of community service to non-profit organizations and towns. Based on the prevailing minimum wage, this work was worth $300,000. The third of the three phases teaches job skills and reintegration skills. In addition, graduates participate in after-care programs and are on probation for 2 and 1/2 years, meeting with their probation officers two times a week.

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