Torture and Starvation at Juvenile Boot Camps

I wrote about the new GAO report (pdf)on juvenile boot camp deaths, but this Times (London) article is really a must read.

Selected quotes:

The Government Accountability Office, the US Congress investigative arm, identified 1,619 incidents of child abuse in 33 states in 2005. It selected ten deaths since 1990 for special investigation in boot camps and “wilderness programmes”.

What they found:

Examples of abuse include youths being forced to eat their own vomit, denied adequate food, being forced to lie in urine or faeces, being kicked, beaten and thrown to the ground,” Gregory Kutz, a GAO investigator, told a congressional committee.

One teenager, Mr Kutz said, was “forced to use a toothbrush to clean a toilet, then forced to use that toothbrush on their own teeth”. The abuse that preceded the deaths of the ten teenagers was particularly shocking. “If you walked in partway through my presentation you might have assumed I was talking about human rights violations in a Third World country,” Mr Kutz said.


One of those who died, emaciated and beaten, Aaron Bacon, kept a journal. His father reports:

He said that Aaron spent 14 of 20 days “without any food whatsoever” while having to hike eight to ten miles (13-16km) a day. When he was given food, it consisted of “undercooked lentils, lizards, scorpions, trail mix and a celebrated canned peach on the 13th day”. Aaron died from an untreated perforated ulcer. His father said that he had been beaten “from the top of his head to the tip of his toes” during his month at the camp. “His mother and I will never escape our decision to send our 16-year-old son to his death,” Mr Bacon said.

Another horror story:

At the American Buffalo Soldiers boot camp in Arizona, where Anthony Haynes, 14, died in 2001, children were fed an apple for breakfast, a carrot for lunch and a bowl of beans for dinner, the GAO report said. Anthony became dehydrated in a 45C (113F) temperature and vomited soil that he had eaten because of his hunger, according to witnesses. The programme closed and Charles Long, its director, was sentenced in 2005 to six years in prison for manslaughter.

The report said that five of the ten programmes where teenagers died are still operating, sometimes under different names. Between 10,000 and 20,000 American children attend the camps every year. Some charge as much as $450 (£225) a day.

Paul Lewis' son Ryan committed suicide.

A trial is ongoing now in Florida over a death there.

In Panama City, Florida, seven guards and a nurse are on trial over Martin Lee Anderson’s death. The opening day was so traumatic for his mother, Gina Jones, that she ran from the courtroom, sobbing and shouting “I cannot take it.”

Prosecutors say that the guards suffocated the boy by covering his mouth, making him inhale ammonia. The guards and nurse each face up to 30 years in jail if convicted.

If convicted, they deserve every day of the maximum sentence in my view. I have no tolerance for vicious, intentional abuse of teens or the elderly by cops or others in positions of authority.

A sampling of four of the fatalities:

  • A 15-year-old girl collapsed of dehydration while hiking in 1990 and lay dead on road for 18 hours
  • A 15-year-old boy refused to return to camp in 2000. He was forcibly restrained and died of a severed artery - ruled a homicide
  • A 14-year-old boy punished for asking to go home in 2001 was made to sit in the desert, then left in bath to recuperate - later died
  • A 14-year-old boy complained of thirst in 2002, was left in sun for an hour and stopped breathing and died. Staff thought he was faking.

I'd close every one of these camps until tough licensing regulations are drafted and in effect. Then, those that pass can open, but there should be an ombudsman or Red Cross type worker there to advocate for the rights of the kids.

I'd also consider requiring a court's approval before a parent can send a child to one of these camps. And make the camps provide the parents with five random names of the parents of former students so they can check out how other kids were treated.

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    And webcams at strategic points in the camp (none / 0) (#1)
    by jerry on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 03:39:11 AM EST
    This is just appalling and I fear that like so much else in society it will or has generated a big enough business and lobby around it that it is here to stay.

    There are times I just hate humans.

    Is it any wonder (none / 0) (#2)
    by Lora on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 08:08:57 AM EST
    ...that child abuse is so prevalent in this country?  Given that the general type of punishment meted out boot camps is considered by many to be a great way to handle kids gone wrong?  Look what happens when you set up such a punitive environment.  These reports are shocking but really it should come as no great surprise.  When you use violence and extreme physical testing and deprivation against others to control them, extreme abuse is not far behind.  There are far better ways.

    a Utah camp and she not only survived but looks back with real fondness on her month or so in the Utah desert.

    Should these camps be regulated and have ombudsmen? Sure, as much as any other of the thousands of camps - like summer camps and Girl/Boy Scout Camps - are regulated and have ombudsmen.

    Camps provide random contact lists of past students? Sure, good idea.

    Court approval before you can send your kid to a camp? Ridiculous. America, Lawyer Nation.

    You're unbelievable (none / 0) (#6)
    by jondee on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 05:21:39 PM EST

    We can always count on your glass-is-half-full take on fascism; as long as it's practiced by an institution you approve of.

    America. Lawyer nation -- as a consequence of brutish moron nation.


    Usually I ignore you ranting, (none / 0) (#7)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 05:35:22 PM EST
    but, honestly, which is more fascist, a parent making a decision for their minor child or the state doing so?

    J's a lawyer. To her lawyers and courts are the best answer to most problems.

    Surely you can understand that? Probably not, I suppose...


    i think that "to her.." bit (none / 0) (#8)
    by jondee on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 05:50:24 PM EST
    is an extremely reckless characterization.

    But, if it makes you feel any better, a friend of a friend of mine's daughter said that her experience with courts and lawyers was one the most meaningful, growth-filled times in her life.


    not a reckless "bit " at all (none / 0) (#9)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 06:06:48 PM EST
    in this case, imo.

    Well, we agree on one thing (none / 0) (#10)
    by jondee on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 06:19:30 PM EST
    Whether it's child abuse or bureaucratization, when life gives you the lemons, make lemonade. Eh?

    Guards... (none / 0) (#4)
    by desertswine on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 12:46:41 PM EST
    to be expected (none / 0) (#5)
    by Jen M on Fri Oct 12, 2007 at 01:11:02 PM EST