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.