Stories & Grievances
Teen Boot Camps: Behavior Modification or Torture Centers?
Can 'tough love' strategies be transferred to schools? Many behavior modification teen camps are allegedly abusive to the kids. You must be careful about where your child is sent or placed.
Thanks to a New York City teacher who put us in touch with this story, we have been reading about teen treatment and wilderness camps, and caution parents who decide to place their children in one of these places. We have gathered some of the information available on the internet below, and we believe that an international investigation is necessary.
Betsy Combier, Editor, parentadvocates.org
Teen Boot Camps
Harsh Re-education Camp For US Troubled Rich Kids
Letters on Boot Camps for Youth
Tranquility Bay: The last resort
By Raphael Rowe, BBC News, December 7, 2004
Reporter, Locked in Paradise
Some parents of rebellious teenagers in the US are turning to privately-owned correctional institutions to steer their wayward children back on the right path. But is this tough love tactic a step too far?
Perched on the edge of a cliff in Treasure Beach - a remote fishing village in southern Jamaica - there is a hand-painted sign on the wall: "Welcome to Tranquility Bay."
This isolated boarding school is surrounded by security cameras, iron gates, barred windows and high concrete walls.
It looks like a top security prison; but it is neither a prison, nor a juvenile detention centre.
At a cost of between $25,000 (£13,000) and $40,000 (£20,800) a year, parents of unruly teenagers send their children here to learn how to behave.
Tranquility Bay is one of several facilities run by an American business organisation called WWASPS, the World Wide Association of Speciality Programs and Schools.
Desperate parents do desperate things
Jayne Levy, mother
According to their website, Tranquility Bay exists "to challenge and motivate the student in a structured, individualised learning environment... so they become mature, responsible and contributing members of society." The teenagers inside are typically enrolled on the programme for three years, but this varies and largely depends on when the institution, and their parents, think they are fit to graduate.
As I glanced around the institution, some pupils - mostly white Americans dressed in khaki shorts and shirts, and flip flops - walked past me in line, military-style, with vacant expressions.
Not one of them looked at me, not even a peep from the corner of an eye.
Rules of admission
Fifteen-year-old Shannon Levy's parents arranged for their daughter to be forcibly taken from their home and escorted to Tranquility Bay.
"Three strangers - a lady and two big men - came into my house and sat me down on the sofa," Shannon told me.
"They said I was going to Jamaica and they handcuffed me and said I could co-operate or they were going to throw me over their shoulder. I was screaming for my mom because I had no clue what was going on. I was very scared," she said.
When I asked Shannon's mother Jayne why she felt the need to send her daughter to a school reputed for its harsh treatment of pupils, she simply said: "Desperate parents do desperate things."
Shannon had disrespected her mother, was sleeping around, drinking alcohol, smoking pot and not doing well at school.
Arguably, most of the children sent to the school flaunt typical teenage behaviour.
In order to recondition these children, once inside, they are completely cut off from their home life.
They are not permitted to talk to their families until they conform to the programme - which is a reward and punishment system.
If you do what you are told, when you are told to do it - and do it the way the programme says you should - you earn points.
These points move you up to the next level in a "six-point plan", a method of acquiring "privileges".
If you do not obey the rules, or as one former student told me, you cannot do what is required of you, you have to face the consequences.
One consequence is being sent to Observational Placement, or what is known to the kids as OP.
On my way to the OP room I caught a glimpse of the sleeping dorms.
They were furnished sparingly with thin, lumpy mattresses on wooden bed frames that fold up against the wall, and wooden shelves on which children have attempted to neatly fold the few items of clothing they are issued.
In OP the children are made to lie on thin plastic mats on the floor, all day, sometimes day after day. They eat, sleep and stay in the room until the staff members guarding them decide they can leave.
Shannon Levy told me she spent eight weeks in OP.
To continue their education, the children work from text books and are partly self-taught.
If they fail a test exam they do it again and again until they pass.
Staff members are not trained teachers in all the subjects they supervise and are often recruited from the local community.
During meals, students are bombarded with self-improvement messages over the tannoy. They are played over and over again.
The children must then write essays about what they have learnt straight afterwards.
Despite its hard and strict methods, many parents like Megan Quinn - who placed her son in the school - are pleased with the results.
Megan told me: "If it wasn't for the God-sent gift of this programme you'd be going to the lakeshore of Chicago where my father's buried, where my sister's buried, and putting flowers on his grave. So yes it hurts right now not to see him for 12 months but it would hurt a heck of a lot more not to see him for the rest of his life."
Other parents are not so convinced and taking legal action against WWASPs. "It was an act of desperation... and we were conned," said Julie Wilkinson, mother of ex-student Winston.
Concerns about the school's methods have also been raised by Bertrand Bainvel, head of the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef), based in Jamaica. He wants OP scrapped, because he says: "There is a high possibility it falls under the definition of child abuse."
In response to the criticism, WWASPs say: "The schools have a tremendous record of success and growth. They have helped thousands of teens and their families and have a 97% parent satisfaction rate."
I began to consider a conversation I had earlier with the uncle of one young female student, as he tried to make his way past security to visit her.
"They're criminalising adolescence," he said, and as I walked out of the gate beyond the high walls into the full tropical sunlight, I wondered if he was right.
Locked in Paradise was broadcast on Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, at 1930 GMT on BBC Two
Statement from parents of a former "student" at Majestic Ranch Academy, Randolph, Utah
Playing With a Full Deck
Boy's Pleas For Aid Denied
Diamond Ranch Academy
and, Diamond Ranch with bios documenting connection to Melaleuca
Ad placed on Career Builder for a Youth Supervisor at Diamond Ranch Academy, no experience and no education necessary:
Company: Diamond Ranch Academy
Location: US-UT-Saint George
Base Pay: N/A
Employee Type: Full-Time Employee
Industry: Education - Teaching - Administration
Manages Others: No
Job Type: Education Management
Req'd Education: None
Req'd Experience: None
Req'd Travel: Not Specified
Relocation Covered: No
Contact: Not Available
Phone: 435-635-4297 x101
Email: Send Email Now
Fax: Not Available
Ref ID: 02591072
Utah School Accreditation - every 6 years
The lawsuits against Bethel Boys Academy in Mississippi
The Lawsuits Against Bethel Boys Academy
Bethel Boys Academy Website
Specialty Schools For Defiant Teens
More From Intrepid Reporters
Steve Bozak Boarding School Placement (many places he recommends are in legal trouble)
Provo Canyon School is owned and operated by Universal Health Services, Inc:
Universal Health Services and this "school" is in legal trouble:
Truth about Provo Canyon School
PCS Alumni Website - note the lawsuits, captors
Convention on the Rights of the Child (note: the United States has not signed)
End Institutionalized Abuse
International Survivors Action Committee
Mind Control Recovery
Other Web sites on These Topics
Heal-online.org also has information on abusive and torturous treatment facilities, behavior modification programs, reform schools, religious boarding schools and other psychiatric care facilities state by state:
"We are currently investigating abusive and torturous residential treatment facilities, behavior modification programs, reform schools, religious boarding schools, and other psychiatric care facilities. We are doing this state by state. If you are a survivor of one of these programs or otherwise interested in exposing fraudulent and abusive "treatment" centers or wilderness camps, please contact us. For more information on this issue visit: http://www.heal-online.org/ - teen. On the HEAL website you will find links to lawsuits, news articles, and survivor websites detailing the abuses experienced at these facilities. Also, please take a moment to read the open letter quoting government and private entities with their true intentions in these matters by visiting Beyond Business. It is imperative that you DO NOT send your child to an out of state behavior modification program. It is imperative that you DO NOT send your child to any program that limits or denies contact between you and your child at any point in their stay at the facility. It is imperative that you DO NOT send your child to a facility that you yourself will not be monitoring on at least a weekly basis in person to monitor the treatment and well being of your child. Be responsible, for the sake of your children".
HEAL's Legal Referral Guide
If you are a parent who was coerced into putting your child on psychotropic drugs by school professionals, please click here.
Correctional Boot Camps: Lessons From a Decade of Research
U.S. State Department's warning regarding international programs: access by clicking here
Thursday, April 21, 2005
Utah-based group under fire
Legislation targets association of schools for troubled youths
Copyright 2005 Deseret Morning News
By Amy Joi Bryson, Deseret Morning News
A Utah-based organization affiliated with schools for troubled youths is stirring controversy in at least three states and is the target of congressional legislation unveiled Wednesday.
At issue are the persistent allegations of child abuse and claims of questionable business practices surrounding the World Wide Association of Specialty Schools and Programs (WWASPS) founded by Robert Lichfield of La Verkin, Washington County.
Lichfield is one of three directors on the board of WWASPS, which officially claims affiliation with seven schools, including facilities in New York, South Carolina, Montana, Utah and Jamaica.
The organization uses behavior modification tactics to curb rebellious behavior in kids and often establishes schools in rural, out-of-the-way areas to deter notions of running away. Monthly tuition is several thousand dollars, on top of admission fees.
The allegations of abuse and questions about the facilities' credentials - all of which WWASPS' president Ken Kay denies or says are overblown - have sparked investigations in numerous states, prompted closures of some facilities and led Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., Wednesday to call for federal legislation invoking more oversight.
It was Miller, the senior Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee, who demanded in 2003 that then-Attorney General John Ashcroft investigate WWASPS.
The request, made again last year, never gained much traction, so Miller is now pushing for passage of the "End Institutional Abuse Against Children Act," which among other things, would establish federal civil and criminal penalties for abuse against children in residential treatment programs and expand federal regulatory authority to overseas programs operated by U.S. companies.
Miller's legislation is just but one of many recent actions involving WWASPS around the country.
In New York, the organization's Academy at Ivy Ridge had its accreditation suspended last week in the wake of a New York Attorney General's Office investigation that is probing the school's licensing and educational credentials.
A subpoena was issued in February gathering numerous documents for an ongoing probe - an investigation Kay characterizes as a "lack of communication" between Ivy Ridge and state officials.
Whatever the case, Ivy Ridge's accreditation was suspended by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools in Boise and the school put a disclaimer on its Web site, listing its lack of accreditation and detailing its negotiations with state educational officials to offer sanctioned diplomas.
The disclaimer comes despite the school's existence since 2002, when it opened just outside of Ogdenburg near the Canadian border and since then has promoted two forms of diplomas as an academic offering.
Kay said the problem is unfortunate because the students' education is being sacrificed simply due to "some bureaucratic jousting going on."
The Northwest Association, the regional accrediting agency for Utah and several other Western states, suspended Ivy Ridge's accreditation until the issue is clarified, Kay said.
"They ran gun-shy because they got a threat from the attorney general in New York."
For its part, the AG's office is remaining mum about the extent of the probe, but officials believe several procedural violations may come into play, including the school's failure to properly operate with a certificate of approval issued by the state Department of Education.
The paperwork problems come on top of complaints by parents who have claimed their children are abused.
Kay said claims frequently surface because of the nature of the schools' population. "They make up stories, they fabricate; you are dealing with a difficult part of society."
New York officials did find enough evidence to substantiate criminal charges against two men contracted to transport a teenager to Ivy Ridge last year.
WWASPS says parents routinely use such escort services - in this case Teen Escort from La Verkin - to transport an unwilling child to a facility.
New York officials, at the time, believed WWASPS and Teen Escort to be one and the same. WWASPS denies any connection.
The men were accused of beating the boy while handcuffed in the car after the teenager - who was then free of restraints - grabbed the steering wheel and caused the vehicle to crash.
Initially charged with misdemeanor assault and felony imprisonment, the two men reached a plea agreement in which they admitted guilt to misdemeanor harassment and were fined.
The New York problems with accreditation are continuing to unfold, even while Missouri officials firmly slammed the door on a proposal to establish a boarding school in the town of Boonville.
Kay said the bid to open a school for troubled youth at the site of the former Kemper Military School was completely unrelated to any WWASPS venture, even though it was founder Lichfield who cut the check for the earnest money deposit and a former WWASPS employee who was going to lease the property from Lichfield and run the facility.
"That is what is just the amazing thing because WWASPS had nothing to do with Boonville, nothing to do with Kemper and nothing to do with Mr. Hinton," Kay said, noting that Lichfield became involved by virtue of his real estate investment company, Golden Pond, and there was never any intention of WWASPS' involvement.
Skeptics, including police supervisors who issued a strongly worded memo advising against the sale, believed otherwise.
"Our personal opinion would be to deny any sale to any person associated with WWASP or its affiliates" until an intensive background check could be completed, the memo reads.
One newspaper editorialized against the venture, asking Boonville to think twice before getting stung by "WWASP" and advising that the city should tell Lichfield to take his checkbook and go home.
Enough controversy, including records supplied to officials that allegedly documented restraints used against children such as handcuffs, pepper spray and duct tape, led the Boonville City Council on Monday to unanimously reject Lichfield's offer.
Closer to home, in Washington County, Lichfield has filed a lawsuit against Shelby Earnshaw, her husband and her International Survivors Action Committee (ISAC).
The organization, which acts as a teen help industry watchdog, compiles complaints and documents related to residential treatment centers. WWASPS has frequently been in its bull's-eye.
The suit alleges the Earnshaws and ISAC have defamed Lichfield, invaded his privacy and caused intentional interference with "prospective economic advantage."
Earnshaw, reached at her offices in Virginia, said the suit will not deter ISAC's mission but admits it does have her perplexed.
"I've never even gotten a parking ticket," she said, adding his claim she spread untruths about Lichfield to Utah and Missouri officials is not true.
ISAC does assert at least one other troubled facility is actually a WWASPS affiliate in the conglomerate that bears Lichfield's stamp.
It is an allegation that Kay challenges anyone to prove.
"We are absolutely not affiliated."
But ISAC contends Bethel Boys Academy in Mississippi, most recently going by the name of Eagle Point Christian Academy, has strings to WWASPS. A riot occurred there this month that left seven teenagers injured.
Most recently in Utah, a children's advocacy group called for an investigation last month into WWASPS' Randolph facility - Majestic Ranch - alleging abuse and unsanitary conditions.
State child welfare officials, who were chastised in the group's report, subsequently said they found nothing that rose to the level of abuse or neglect. On Wednesday, however, a mother filed a federal lawsuit against WWASPS alleging that her son had been battered at the ranch.
Tough-Love Schools Are Both Loved, Hated
Spring Creek's Short Leash
Liahona Academy Enrollment Agreement - look at paragraphs 24 and 29 (editor)
End Institutionalized Abuse Against Children Act of 2005
Dr. Mel Riddile Wins the Metlife/NASSP 2006 National Principal of the Year Award: But there is a problem...
Congress Fails to Protect Parental Rights in Mental Health Screening Programs
Representative Ron Paul (R-TX-14) introduced an amendment, House Resolution 3010 saying that "none of the funds made available in this Act may be used to create or implement any new universal mental health screening program." The amendment was defeated 97-304 in a late afternoon vote on June 24, 2005.
Just asking: Is this an effort by our drug companies and the politico-educational complex to create a new generation of young people that 'they' want? (Editor)
Global Citizens Beware: The Politico-Educational Complex Enforces Communitarianism in America and the World
A Business Built on the Troubles of Teenagers
Online recruitment of kids for Teen Boot Camps