Drug Policy

Twenty-Five Years Late, But It'll Do

|

Looks as if one of those tough-love anti-drug boot camps will finally be held responsible for the damage it's done to a kid, in this case, the "damage" being death:

Seven guards and a nurse at a juvenile boot camp were charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child Tuesday in the death of a teenager earlier this year.

Martin Lee Anderson, 14, died hours after guards were videotaped manhandling him Jan. 5 after he collapsed during a forced run. An autopsy determined Martin was suffocated by ammonia capsules put into his nose.

Guards said the boy was uncooperative and had refused to participate in exercises. Martin had arrived at the Bay County Boot Camp earlier that day.

The death shook the state's troubled juvenile-justice system, leading to the closure of the Bay County camp and the resignation of Florida's top law enforcement officer, who founded the camp while Bay County sheriff.

For much of the last two decades, these teen "rehab" centers have gotten away with what would clearly be child abuse under most circumstances, mostly because their mission—getting kids off drugs—happens to be politically popular—as well as the sentiment that the kids reporting the abuse were a bunch of druggies, and either had it coming, or were probably lying anyway.

There are still lots of them in operation, though many have moved offshore to escape U.S. jurisdiction.  Maia Szalavitz's excellent book Help At Any Cost  is a meticulously-reported primer on the long, tragic history of these programs.  I hosted an event for Szalavitz at Cato earlier this year, which you can still watch online. The forum also featured former Rolling Stone reporter Evan Wright,Straight, Inc.

Though there have been several successful civil suits, to my knowledge, the Bay County incident represents the first time criminal charges have been filed as a result of abuse at teen rehab abuse in the U.S., though other deaths, injuries, and even rapes have been associated with them.

MORE:  Maia Szalavitz comments on the Anderson case at Huffington Post.

MORE II:  Szalavitz also has an article on this very issue coming up in our January issue, now on its way to subscribers.

Advertisement

NEXT: Throwing the Bums Out

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But if these camps were privately owned, this never would’ve happened, right? Afterall, everything the government does is bad.

  2. Um, nearly all of these camps were/are privately owned.

    The problem is that the no one bothered to investigate the abuse allegations because of drug war hysteria.

    And, in the case of the Semblers, because of the political connections of the people running them.

    Many times, in fact, local authorities referred kids to the private programs. Some of the kids didn’t even have drug problems. I know of several who were enrolled as a preventative measure because their parents were getting divorced, or some other circumstance beyond the kid’s control.

    Some actually went in clean, and came out with drug problems.

  3. What are the alternatives for helping these kids? I know they are out there but these “re-education camps” seem to be the go-to solution for kids with drug-related behavioral problems.

    If there parents cannot cope with them, then who should? Institutionalization cannot be the only solution left to help troubled kids.

  4. OK, I just read the commentary that Szalavitz posted on HP. Some of the follow-up discussion clarified for me that the alternatives to “boot-camp” style rehab are not always any better. They may be more gentle but are run by police departments, not licensed psychiatrists or special educators trained to help kids cope with life and learn about themselves and others, and guide them channel their anger and frustration into less harmful actions.

    I was pretty shocked to find that these camps were given permission to use torture tactics on the kids, tactics that many prisons are not able to use on their inmates.

    Szalavitz is correct in her observation: until the leaders and administrators of these programs feel the pinch, it will be business as usual. Guards and Nurses are grunts on the ground of the battlefield, and until the generals feel the heat, the violent tactics against the kids will continue. They may change their shape a bit, they may put a kinder, gentler face on their institutions, but the purpose of using violence to demoralize and “remake” these troubled kids will not change.

  5. I’m not trying to play stupid here, but what are these camps supposed to accomplish? You take troubled kids, scream at them for a few weeks, and they come out….troubled kids that have been screamed at? I think their problems are a little deeper than “Oh, I didn’t realize what I was doing was wrong, but now that I have been forced to do push-ups, I know how to live a good life!”
    My point is, what do the kids take with them when they leave these camps, besides a hatred of the camp, that is supposed to make their lives better once they leave?

  6. Do Reason editors have the authority to send Dan T. to one of these camps? You know, turn him into a healthy, functioning, useful member of Hit and Run society?

  7. “My point is, what do the kids take with them when they leave these camps, besides a hatred of the camp, that is supposed to make their lives better once they leave?”

    If they were incarcerated at one of these camps with the consent of their parents, I would think they would also take with them a hatred of their parents and a sense of betrayal they may affect their relationships for the rest of their lives. I’m pretty sure I would.

  8. It’s for the children! Drugs are evil. We’ll beat the drug abuse out of them! It’s for their own good!

    The drug war debases and defiles everything it touches. Drugs-bad, beating and killing children-much better.

  9. Dave, you are not playing stupid at all. I have the same question. I think back to my own adolescence, the dabbling with drugs and challenging my parents’ authority?it was pretty normal, I guess. I can’t say I did everything right and maybe they should have been a bit tougher on me, but being sent to a place to be beaten and screamed at would only have served the purpose to make me more belligerent, disruptive and mad as hell.

    What changed me were two E’s – education and exercise. I am passionate about both (now), and I believe that education is the root of all that is good about people. I had some good teachers and two parents who cared that I got an education no matter what. Once I figured out how to channel my aggression into exercise and to put my intelligence to constructive use, all of my bad behavior just fell away.

    I wonder if similar “2E” therapy would not be more productive than boot camp for kids at risk – of anything, whether it be drug use, behavior problems, criminal activity, what have you. I just cannot see how beating a kid (who may already be beaten at home or by peers) will accomplish anything other than a perpetuation of a cycle of violent behavior.

  10. What really gets me infuriated about these camps is that in most cases (keep in mind I said MOST) of troubled kids that I’m personally familiar with, you need look no farther than the parents to see what screwed them up. The idea that these parents will then send their kids to be tortured for their sins while they continue to drink/fight/etc really enrages me.
    I have a cousin whose parents have been on the edge of divorce for most of her life. They’ve spent her childhood fighting, calling the cops on each other, moving out/moving back in, and more fighting. Well this girl who grew up with parents that were phsychologically AWOL is now a young teen, and is acting out exactly how one would expect under the circumstances. And what is all the family gossip? What a bad kid she is and how she needs to be punished. Right.
    In my amateur opinion, these kids need something positive to live for. If you can’t give them that, nothing you can threaten them with will change anything in the long run.

  11. “I wonder if similar “2E” therapy would not be more productive than boot camp for kids at risk”

    Of course it would. I have spent years working with at-risk inner-city kids (which is why it really pissed me off yesterday when someone suggested my observed experience vis-?-vis children’s age-based reaction to a smile was somehow rooted in molestive desires, but I digress).

    What works best with at-risk youth is consistently treating them with respect, establishing reasonable boundaries, and finding creative outlets for them to address the issues they’re struggling with (e.g. years of sexual abuse). I have seen many successes – both great and small – achieved by these kids and can recall no instance where success was the result of a kid being abused by an authority figure.

    Oh, and by the way, I stand by yesterday’s assertion that racism is taught to black youth by their elders from the moment they are born. The reason it doesn’t show itself until a kid is about 6-years-old is because prior to that age, skin color doesn’t really register. But repeated over time… It’s a form of social indoctrination and it’s never going away.

  12. Mark, my intuition and personal experience say “yes, of course it would” also. So why is it not used more often and more broadly? Why is prison camp therapy the go-to solution?

    I raise the question somewhat rhetorically, I suppose. Punitive measures seem to be favored over constructive ones as a one-size-fits-all approach to an array of unique problems. I just wonder WHY.

    I aspire to become an educator soon (I am patiently waiting on the state of NJ to issue me a CE so I can get in a classroom) and these are the issues I worry I will have to face in the classroom. I want to have discipline in the classroom, but not at the cost of demoralizing my students.

    Perhaps I am just being idealistic and naive with my thoughts of constructive outlets, positive reinforcement, and treating young adults like, oh, human beings, being better suited to shaping citizens than physically imposed discipline.

  13. “So why is it not used more often and more broadly? Why is prison camp therapy the go-to solution?”

    It isn’t, it’s just that the concomitant murders make the news. I suspect that prison camp is less then 1% of what’s being employed these days.

    If you want to learn how to handle a classroom, I suggest that while waiting for your CE, you volunteer your time someplace in NJ that serves homeless urban street youth, similar to one of theses places in Minneapolis:

    http://www.youthlinkmn.org

    http://www.kultureklub.org/home.html

    Your county should be able to help you find something suitable.

  14. thanks for the links and the tip. I will put them to good use.

  15. But if these camps were privately owned, this never would’ve happened, right? Afterall, everything the government does is bad.

    Thanks to Dan Troll for the inflammatory non sequitur of the day.

    Moving right along…

    This is a good start. Now, if we can go after for Fundie-run boot camps where Bible-beater parents can incarcerate their teenage children when they’re afraid of they caught “Tha’ Gay.”

  16. The only problem is, he wasn’t suffocated. Read http://www.billoblog.com/billoblog/?p=271

  17. BOBSMITH’s comment would be more accurate if it read, “He MIGHT NOT have died from suffocation”.

    Several conclusions have been presented. It will be of course interesting to see the second autopsy report if and when released for a trial.

  18. MadBiker:
    What changed me were two E’s – education and exercise. I am passionate about both (now), and I believe that education is the root of all that is good about people. I had some good teachers and two parents who cared that I got an education no matter what. Once I figured out how to channel my aggression into exercise and to put my intelligence to constructive use, all of my bad behavior just fell away.

    I strongly disagree. I deeply resent the fact that, as a teenager, I was forced to undergo mandatory schooling. All it did was waste my time and mess with my head. Teens should be treated less like children and more like adults. Much of the childish behavior on their part is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Since my shameless plug of my blog generated so much traffic the other day, I’ll do it again: teenagers are the new niggers.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.