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Boot Camp or Boot Hill? Troubled Teens Suffer From Too Much Tough Love

Boot Camp Or Boot Hill? Troubled Teens Suffer From Too Much Tough Love

by Roger Hummel

On February 15, 2002, Charles Long II was arrested on murder and child abuse charges growing from the death of Anthony Haynes. On July 1, 2001 the 14 year old Haynes died while attending an Arizona boot camp operated by America's Buffalo Soldiers ReEnactors Association. Long, 56, was the camp's director. He was also charged with marijuana possession and aggravated assault for allegedly pulling a knife on a young camper.

The medical examiner's office said Haynes died from the unlikely combination of dehydration and near drowning. Without benefit of shade from the summer sun, the teenager had been made to stand in the 114degree desert heat for 5 hours. When Haynes began hallucinating and eating dirt, he was left face down in a bathtub filled with water.

Haynes was not the first teenager to die in a correctional boot camp, the nation's increasingly popular nontraditional sentencing option for juvenile offenders. Since 1980, at least 31 youngsters have perished in these camps under diverse and often suspicious circumstances.

Boot camp programs are modeled after military basic training. Juveniles often enter the program in groups referred to as platoons or squads. They are required to wear military style uniforms, march in formation to and from activities, and respond rapidly to commands from "drill instructors." The rigorous daily schedule requires the youths to arise early and stay active throughout the day. While the daily routine may vary from camp to camp, it usually includes drill and ceremony practice, strenuous physical fitness activities, and an academic program. For misbehavior, campers may receive summary punishment such as having to do pushups.

Despite their popularity, correctional boot camps are controversial. There is no clear evidence to show that the camps are an appropriate or effective means to treat youthful offenders nor to assess the impact the camps have on the behavior of juveniles while they are confined or after they are released. That the military does not accept recruits with criminal records would indicate that boot camps have little rehabilitative potential in and of themselves. Key to this is the lack of follow up and care when juveniles are released from boot camps and returned to the poor, shattered neighborhoods, broken families and milieus of substance abuse that they came from with no education or job skills.

Moreover, there are no standardized guidelines or national regulations governing boot camps or the private or governmental agencies that operate them. Background checks on bootcamp staffers are rarely conducted. Many private camps operate without any governmental oversight or even the need to obtain a state license or county permit. The only suggestion of regulation comes from the selfinterested American Correctional Association, a prison industry trade group, that likely would have accredited the camps operated by Nazi Germany so long as the accreditation fees had been paid in advance, of course.

Failure, Tragedy, And Death

To gain a better view, examine the largest system in the nation, the California Youth Authority (CYA), which operates 11 prisons and four boot camps. Three years ago, CYA officials acknowledged what critics had been saying for years: something was very wrong.

Instead of rehabilitation and education, the system of 6,300 young prisoners had become known for brutality, neglect, and other abuses. Persistent reports that mentally ill youths were stripped to their underwear and isolated in cages 23 hours a day, that prisoners were subjected to biomedical experiments and sexually and physically abused by guards, and that other horrors were part of the daily routine led California's Inspector General, Steven White, to conclude that "it would be impossible to overstate the problem." [ PLN , Feb 2000 and page 16 of this issue.]

But the problems are not limited to California. In 1990, Michelle Sutton, then 15, and two other juveniles died at a Utah outdoor camp. Candy Sutton, Michelle's mother, who has since campaigned for governmental oversight of youth camps, said: "The industry is getting so big, it's harder to regulate. That's why we need national regulations for the camps or we should abolish them altogether."

In 1998, Nicholas Contreraz, then 16, died at the privately run Arizona Boys Ranch boot camp. The state eventually brought charges of murder, manslaughter, and child abuse against six staff members at the camp. All charges were later dropped.

Critics say that the boot camps' confrontational environment is in direct opposition to the development of positive interpersonal relationships and a supportive atmosphere, two factors that are essential for youths' rehabilitation.

A tragic example of neglect was Chad Franza, 16, who had a series of runins with the law. Only 24 days after he entered a boot camp at Bartow, Florida, Chad decided he could not endure the camp's tough conditions nor the isolation from his family. He hanged himself with his boot laces. Hours before he took his life, Chad's parents, both of whom were employed by the Florida Department of Corrections, went to the boot camp to visit their son. "They wouldn't let us," Joseph Franza said.

Chad's parents sued Florida's Department of Juvenile Justice, Polk County Sheriff Lawrence Crow, and Emergency Medical Services Associates (EMSA), Correctional Care, a Fort Lauderdale based for profit company contracted to provide medical and mental health services to the Bartow boot campers.

The Franza family's lawsuit alleges that the camp's workers were told that Chad was suicidal and had threatened to kill himself more than once, yet the boy was never placed on close watch or scheduled for a suicide risk assessment. Joseph Franza alleged that camp employees failed to document Chad's suicidal tendencies, failed to check his room regularly and restricted contact between the boy and his parents.

A boot camp presents "a situation that lends itself to abusive conditions" said R. Dean Wright, a professor of sociology at Drake University in Iowa. "Any time you have someone use lock and key, the person who has the lock and key has the power to abuse, and they often do."

In July 1999 in South Dakota, 14year old Gina Score died after a forced run at a girls boot camp operated by the state. Two staff members were acquitted of child abuse charges in connection with Gina's death. Camp workers were also acquitted of charges growing from the cruel practice of making the girls run in shackles until their ankles bled.

Abuse does not always take the form of physical mistreatment, however. Abuse can also occur as a result of withholding or the improper delivery of essential services such as health care.

On January 4, 2001, 18 year old Bryan Alexander complained of feeling ill. He filed a sickcall request at the 120 bed Mansfield, Texas, boot camp where he was confined for assault and drunk driving convictions. A boot camp nurse assessed his condition and, on January 5, a camp physician prescribed penicillin, an antibiotic. Alexander's condition worsened. On January 7, he was transported to John Peter Smith hospital in Fort Worth where, on January 9th, he died. The medical examiner determined that death was the result of an antibiotic resistant form of pneumonia caused by a staphylococcus infection.

Early in May 2001, a Tarrant County (Fort Worth) grand jury handed up a two count indictment against Knyvett Jane Reyes, a nurse at the Mansfield boot camp. Reyes was charged with manslaughter and negligent homicide. The indictment alleged that Reyes recklessly and negligently caused Alexander's death by failing to assess, report, and stabilize his condition. The indictment also alleged that Reyes did not order bed rest, did not prohibit strenuous physical exercise, and did not timely transfer Alexander to a hospital.

In a bench trial on June 28, 2002, Reyes was convicted of negligent homicide in Alexander's death after being acquitted of the more serious manslaughter charge. Reyes now works as a records clerk in a local hospital. The criminal conviction will not prevent Reyes from reapplying for her registered nurse license. In Texas a manslaughter conviction carries a 2 to 20 year prison term while negligent homicide is punishable by up to 2 years in a state jail. A fine of up to $10,000 can be added to the punishment for either offense.

Rick Alexander, Bryan's father, filed a $755 million lawsuit against Florida based Correctional Services Corporation (CSC), the Mansfield camp's operator. The elder Alexander complained that inadequate medical care led to his son's death. CSC denied the allegations.

A month after Bryan Alexander died, 14 year old Ryan Lewis hanged himself at the wilderness therapy camp in West Virginia. Ryan's parents said the camp operator did not recognize the severity of the boy's depression.

February 2001 saw yet another needless death, this time at a Florida camp for troubled boys. Michael Wiltsie, 12, one of the youngest to die at a boot camp, succumbed after a 320 pound camp counselor restrained him on the ground for almost 30 minutes.

These deaths and more combined with frequent reports of abuses are putting increased pressure in states to adopt regulations to govern the roughly 400 boot camps operating around the country. While most states have laws against child abuse and endangerment, many do not specifically compel the boot camps to meet published standards for procedures and personnel.

The Geography of Abuse

The stigmata of tragic deaths and shameful abuses of the juveniles, while difficult burdens to bear, do not seem to motivate the camps' operators to adopt and obey standard operating procedures. Allegations of mismanagement, incompetent staffers, unregulated operations, and savage disciplinary practices continue to swirl around the nation's correctional boot camps.

Many of the camps are state or county owned facilities staffed by civil servants or by employees of an outside contractor. Juveniles are sent to these camps by the courts under authority of the criminal justice system. There are also large numbers of privately owned and operated camps around the country such as the one in Arizona where Tony Haynes died. There private camps are filled with unruly teenagers whose parents have paid a fee to the camp operator in fervent, sometimes desperate hope that their child will benefit from the experience.

While problems and complaints have been reported from many states, the camps in Texas, Maryland, Nevada, and Arizona have received a deservedly major share of the criticism.

Trouble In Texas

In Texas, less than a month after Bryan Alexander died consequent to medical neglect by Mansfield boot camp employees, state investigators rode into town with a complaint charging the CSCoperated camp with illegally possessing and distributing narcotics.

On February 2, 2001, agents from the Narcotics Division of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the State Board of Medical Examiners, the Texas Board of Pharmacy, and the legendary Texas Rangers conducted a three hour search of the Mansfield Camp. The agents declined to identify who had filed the complaint and Texas Rangers spokeswoman Tela Mange offered no comment.

Later that same month, Tarrant County judges decided to recommend to Texas legislators that they not renew the contract with CSC, the operator of the 370 bed Community Correctional Facility which includes the 120 bed Mansfield boot camp. CSC had been the sole operator of the facility since it opened in 1992.

The following month, state District Court Judge Paul Enlow found CSC criminally liable for the actions of two of their former employees who had sexually harassed three women who were confined to the Mansfield camp. On March 5, 2001, following a bench trial of a civil complaint filed by the three women, Judge Enlow found CSC guilty of malice and conscious indifference. He awarded $2.8 million in damages to the three abused women. CSC later agreed to settle the case for an undisclosed amount [ PLN , Aug., 2002].

On July 3, 2001 the Mansfield camp graduated its final class of 20 probationers. CSC's contract for operation of the Mansfield camp was set to expire on August 31st but their Texas troubles were far from over.

Near Dallas, a CSC operated boot camp for emotionally disturbed delinquents was closed after half of the residents flunked out and had to be sent elsewhere for treatment.

In addition to the loss of revenue from the Mansfield and Dallas camps, CSC faces still further revenue loss due to residents' shorter stays in the camps.

In October 2001, two state judges found the longtime practice of sentencing juvenile felons to a 180day boot camp regime, sometimes called "shock probation," may be illegal. Austin attorney Edmund Davis successfully argued that state law sets a maximum jail stay of 90 days for felons sentenced to probation. Judge Wil Flowers was the first to order a prisoner released from a county boot camp and judge Jon Wisser did the same after hearing Davis' argument.

The rulings from Flowers and Wisser sent prosecutors to their law books in search of authority to send young felons to a 180day term of shock probation at a boot camp.

The county pays a boot camp operator such as CSC about $37 per day to feed and house a prisoner, or about $6,660 for a typical 180 day program. If a 90 day cap is put on Texas boot camp stays, private operators such as CSC stand to lose half of their income from the shock probation program.

Mismanagement In Maryland

"If you were sort of a mad scientist who was sent to Maryland to deliberately make kids into criminals, you could hardly do any better than what's going on in Maryland's juvenile facilities. You'd have to work hard to cripple kids worse that they're being crippled now." So said Vincent Schiraldi, Executive Director of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice in Washington DC.

In December 1999, Maryland governor Parris Glendening shut down the state's boot camps because guards were abusing those in their care. "Violence," said the governor, "will not be tolerated."

Today, Maryland's three largest juvenile facilities, which house hundreds of the state's male teenage lawbreakers, are rife with violence that not only is tolerated by guards but often ignited by them.

The three facilities are not called "boot camps" but are "academies" or "schools" or "youth facilities." Changing the name, however, does not change the character of the facility. The violence and abuse continue.

Not long ago, three Maryland teenagers who were confined to one of the facilities met to discuss their drug and alcohol problems. A guard approached, grabbed one boy, and punched him squarely in the mouth twice _ maybe three times. The boy required hospitalization to treat his injuries.

Two weeks later, a guard watching another group of delinquent teens approached one who was clowning around in the lunch line. When the altercation was over the teen had a broken arm.

When a third youth who had grappled with a guard one morning reached the emergency room, doctors found that a bone in his face had been broken.

These three incidents and hundreds more typify the daily routine at Maryland's three largest juvenile jails: the Victor Cullen Academy, the Charles H. Hickey School, and the Cheltenham Youth Facility.

When reporters from the Baltimore Sun launched an investigation of guard on prisoner violence at western Maryland's Victor Cullen Academy, they found more than 200 reports of physical abuse had been altered, destroyed, or simply not filed.

A recent state investigation of the Cullen Academy found chronic short staffing, inadequate health care services, sloppy financial procedures, and a lack of training for juvenile offenders. The investigation came in the wake of four escapes from Cullen as well as the rape of a staff member at the Hickey School. Both facilities are operated by Youth Services International (YSI), a for profit division of CSC, the same outfit that operated the Mansfield and Dallas boot camps in Texas.

The investigator's report faulted YSI for chronic understaffing at Cullen which can house as many as 225 youths. Almost a quarter of the living area staff positions were vacant.

In the YSI operated medical department, the report said, five of the ten nurses were working with expired licenses, the gymnasium was filled with unsecured over the counter medications, referrals for psychotherapy were done on a haphazard basis, counseling was done by staff members who had no more education and training than a high school diploma, and drug treatment was less than adequate with youths having to wait up to 3 months for help.

Investigators found numerous other irregularities at Cullen including YSI's failure to account properly for a fund to provide education and job training as well as a failure to account for property confiscated from youths. Cullen's library was found to be 2,500 items short of the required number of books.

Because these problems represented contract violations, YSI owed the state about $2 million in damages, said the report. (YSI operated the Cullen Academy in Sabillasville under a 5year, $41 million contract which expired in June 2002.)

As YSI struggled to settle the $2 million damage claim, a separate investigation was launched into allegations that YSI employees staged fights between Cullen's residents. In July 2001 as the investigation intensified, two YSI employees were dismissed and a third resigned, said Woodie Harper, a CSC vice president. The three employees were suspected of promoting fights between boys with drug and alcohol problems.

In September 2001 after 9 months of negotiating, Maryland's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) announced that YSI agreed to pay the state $600,000 to settle the $2 million claim resulting from contract violations at Cullen. The DJJ continues to negotiate with YSI over problems at the Hickey School.

Three months later, Maryland's Lieutenant Governor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, announced that the troublesome Cullen Academy would be downsized from its current 225bed capacity to less than 50 beds. The December 2001 decision to downsize Cullen followed an earlier decision to close the state operated Cheltenham Youth Facility. The 355bed Hickey School will continue to operate under a contract with CSC that expires in 2004.

As for those altered, destroyed, and unfiled guard on prisoner assault reports, a top official at Maryland's DJJ resigned after it was disclosed that he intentionally understated the number of teens assaulted by guards. Henry Lesonsky, who was responsible for reporting guard assaults on juveniles, resigned effective February 18, 2002.

Unneeded in Nevada

In Nevada, while the problems were less widespread, they were as serious as those occurring in other states. And, as in Texas and Maryland, Florida based CSC played a major role.

Consider the problems at only one of Nevada's Facilities for juvenile offenders. In June 2000, amid much fanfare, the shortlived Summit View Youth Correctional Center opened in Clark County. The state built the 96bed facility to house Nevada's most serious and chronic offenders from 13 to 18 years old.

Located a few miles north of Las Vegas, the $14 million facility was operated by YSI, a division of CSC, under a $4.3 million annual contract. While not officially classified as a boot camp, Summit View operated with a boot camp philosophy hoping to rehabilitate and educate Nevada's delinquent teenagers.

Troubles for the center and YSI began the same month the facility opened. In June 2000, it was publicly disclosed that YSI had offered a position to a former Clark County probation officer while he was awaiting trial on six felony counts of having sex with a juvenile he was supervising.

The probation officer, Tommie Burse, 38, was to fill a YSI slot where he would supervise troubled teens. When they were contacted as part of a background check, two Clark County agencies failed to disclose Burse's history. Five days after Summit View opened, Burse pled guilty to one count of sexual seduction.

A year later, Las Vegas police Lieutenant Tom Monahan confirmed that his office was investigating two separate sexrelated allegations involving Summit View staff members. Monahan said the matter involved sexual contact between a prisoner and a YSI employee.

On May 31, 2001, the day before the first anniversary of the facility's opening, a prisoner warned a staff member that a disturbance was imminent. The employee made a note in a logbook and no further action was taken.

On June 1, the morning after the warning was issued, 19 boys stormed the prison's rooftop where they caused more than $12,000 in damage, tore up an air conditioning unit, and hurled pieces at policemen below. Most of the boys gave up after spending a few hours on the roof in 100degree desert heat.

Further troubles occurred in August 2001 when two female YSI employees were arrested for having sex with two Summit View prisoners, ages 17 and 18. The women pled guilty to the charges in November and were sentenced to probation.

In September 2001, YSI informed the state that it intended to terminate its $4.3 million annual contract to operate Summit View. YSI officials said the company wanted to pull out of Nevada because Summit View never reached 95 percent capacity and administrators had trouble hiring staff in Las Vegas' highly competitive labor market. The center, with a capacity of 96 juveniles, never held more than 81.

Although YSI's contract called for a 180day termination notice, the company made it clear it wanted to end its contract immediately, 2 years early, and leave town. YSI claimed it could not operate the facility profitably.

On January 31, 2002, after operating for less than 2 years, the $14 million facility closed. An effort by Nevada's Division of Child and Family Services to win legislative approval to operate the prison itself was rejected by state lawmakers. The two dozen prisoners who remained at the center were paroled or transferred to other facilities.

Summit View is an example of privatization failure, said State Senator Joe Neal. "The state has a responsibility to these children and closing a facility that offered rehabilitation programs is wrong," Neal said. The state hopes to reopen Summit View by contracting with another company to operate the facility. Proposals are being solicited and the center may reopen as early as the summer of 2002.

Abuse in Arizona

In Arizona where the tragic death of young Anthony Haynes in the summer of 2001 attracted national attention, legislators and citizens' groups were clamoring for statutes and standards to regulate boot camps and facilities for youthful offenders.

Arizona is among those states that has done the least to regulate the camps. "You have to provide more documents to get a fishing license than to run a camp for young boys," said State Senator Chris Cumminsky. "We require nothing to demonstrate you have the qualifications to engage in this type of activity."

In Arizona, any private youth program open for less than 12 months a year does not have to be licensed by the state.

Governor Jane Hull said there is no state law to ensure parents receive "accurate information on the programs they send their children to and the people who run them. I will not have the state of Arizona be a haven for unscrupulous or abusive people who prey on desperate parents and their children."

The conditions which led to the July 2001 death of Tony Haynes at the Buffalo Soldiers "tough love" camp are not limited to Arizona. They are illustrative of the problems that infect boot camps and juvenile facilities nationwide.

Camp Director Charles Long and his drill instructors (called "sergeants") had neither the formal training nor the credentials to operate a camp for troubled kids. A former Marine lance corporal who served in Vietnam and liked to be called "colonel," Long was arrested in 1989 for breaking through an exgirlfriend's door with a sledgehammer. In 1991, he was fined and sentenced to probation for assaulting the same girlfriend.

Long's camp was located south of Buckeye, a dusty desert town 40 miles west of Phoenix. About 40 boys and girls ages 7 to 17 attended the 5week camp which began on June 25, 2001. In addition to Long, the children were supervised by three sergeants: Raymond Anderson, 39 and two others who were barely older than the campers.

The sergeants imposed a regimen of forced marches, wearing black uniforms in tripledigit desert heat, in your face discipline, and a daily diet limited to an apple, a carrot and a bowl of beans. And dirt.

One young sergeant, who asked not to be named, said the children were kicked, stomped, whipped, deprived of sleep, and forced to eat mud as punishment for minor rule infractions.

Justin Hurff, 12, and his brother Michael, 9, attended the same 5week program as Tony. The Hurff brothers said the beatings and abusive treatment began several days after they arrived in camp. Once, they said, all the campers were told to lie on their backs side by side as the sergeants, wearing boots, ran across their chests. Michael said the younger campers were often made to ingest dirt that turned to mud after the sergeants poured water into their mouths.

Justin Hurff said the sergeants once secured Tony's hands with handcuffs and his legs with shackles before they pulled down his pants "and beat his butt with a boot."

Chris Hanner, whose 14 year old son, Brandon, attended the camp with Tony, said he was not aware the camp had no running water, no medical care, and that campers slept in sleeping bags lined up on a concrete slab in sweltering heat.

Melanie Hudson, Tony's mother, had wanted to get her son some help. She feared she was losing control of Tony after he was caught shoplifting a $12 toy and slashing the tires on a car. She read the publicity materials warning that the Buffalo Soldiers program was "not a fun in the sun camp" and signed a release authorizing corporal punishment. She paid a $2,000 fee to send Tony to the camp.

Court records show that the day Tony died, campers were allowed to say whether they wanted to go home. Tony and others who said "yes" were made to stand in the sun as punishment for being "quitters." Temperatures reached 114 degrees that day.

After several hours standing in the sun, Tony began hallucinating, eating dirt, and refusing to drink water. When he became nonresponsive, camp counselors took him to a motel and left him face down in a bathtub with the shower running. When he was returned to camp, he wasn't breathing. Tony never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead later that night.

The following day, Maricopa County's flamboyant sheriff, Joe Arpaio, halted camp operations and returned more than 40 children to their parents. Twenty detectives were assigned to the case and an 8month investigation followed.

During a search of Long's suburban Phoenix home, policeman seized pornographic literature, a video about growing marijuana, two pairs of handcuffs, and a quarter pound of marijuana from a safe in Long's bedroom closet.

On February 15, 2002, Long was arrested in charges of seconddegree murder for the death of Anthony Haynes. Long was also charged with eight counts of child abuse, aggravated assault, and possession of marijuana. On February 20, Long posted $100,000 bond and was released.

Anderson, one of the camp's sergeants, was arrested and charged with multiple counts of child abuse. A 17year old sergeant was also charged with child abuse and transferred to a juvenile detention facility.

On February 20, Troy Hutty, 29, a former camp counselor, pled guilty to a charge of negligent homicide in the death of Tony Haynes. Hutty agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and will be sentenced to probation. Hutty was freed without bond and will not be sentenced until Long and the others have been prosecuted.

Do They Work?

Critics of boot camps and similar juvenile facilities have expressed particular concern about the level of stress created by the strict, military based, confrontational model. They fear such an atmosphere will create excessive stress and will mitigate any positive effects from academic and therapeutic programs that the camps may offer.

The critics' concerns are borne out by the statistics that show boot camps are little more effective in treating juveniles than conventional programs.

Boot camps are also an excellent example of the widening net of state repression. Before boot camps were created in the early 1980s, the youths who now wind up in boot camps would typically have been placed on probation or some other sanction that did not involve imprisonment. Nowadays, the non violent children who are typical boot camp fodder wind up in boot camps and if they wash out of that, they go to prison. This is an effect that has not been studied in detail and which belies the so called cost savings rationale sometimes advanced by the proponents of boot camps, aside from whether or not the youths who emerge from boot camps alive are in better shape than when they went in.

A 1998 study by the Koch Crime Institute in Kansas found that reoffending rates for juveniles who spent time in boot camps were similar or slightly higher than the rates for juveniles who were sentenced to traditional facilities.

The National Mental Health Association concluded that the recidivism rates of boot camp graduates are no better than those of delinquents sentenced to prison or conventional probation.

"The question is whether we're getting what we want from boot camps," said Doris MacKenzie, a professor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Maryland. Professor MacKenzie, a recognized expert on boot camps, has written several books and testified before Congress on the subject.

"Many jurisdictions felt that they could just start them and guess what the effects would be. But the studies show that boot camps do no better, and in some cases do far worse, than other facilities," MacKenzie said.

The expert opinions aside, Melanie Hudson, Rick Alexander, Joseph Franza, and many other parents have their own views based on the tragic deaths of their children: Boot camps don't work.

Sources: Arizona Daily Sun, Arizona Republic, Arlington (Texas) Morning News, Associated Press Reports, Austin American Statesman, The Baltimore Sun, The Dallas Morning News, The Dallas Observer, Fort Worth StarTelegram, Las Vegas Review Journal, National Institute Of Justice research in Brief, NCJ 187680, The New York Times, Newsweek, The San Diego UnionTribune, The Seattle Times and The Washington Post.

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