"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Shut Down the Torture Camps for Troubled Children

Where can you have your troubled teen warehoused, forced to eat her own vomit, marched until heat stroke sets in, and then charged $500 per day?

Only in a free country that is also free of state and federal oversight for the thousands of boot camps, er, "wilderness training" schools, where troubled children are first discarded by negligent or just plain stupid adults.

Instead of meddling in the business of accreditation for colleges, I am wondering if Sec. Spellings has checked into the credentialing of this PR outfit that lies, dissembles, and covers up for the sanctioned sadists who torture thousands of innocent teens in their sanctioned hell schools: the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). From reading a bit of their public school bashing in their propaganda literature, I would guess NATSAP postion gets warm receptions from the ed industry enablers. From a NATSAP white paper:
In the past 25 years the level of structure and protection for youth in our society has deteriorated. More than 33% of public high school students drop out of school. Drug use is rampant in junior high and high school, and these drugs are more powerful, addictive, and dangerous. More and more young people have addictions such as cutting, and eating disorders. More are being diagnosed with depression (including bipolar disorder), anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and oppositional defiance. Use of prescription medications to manage emotional and behavioral problems has increased. These facts are symptoms of an adolescent culture that is stressed, overwhelmed, and struggling to cope.
And, of course, the NATSAP has a dues-paying torture camp just right for all these children.

Today's Arizona Republic has a story on the latest GAO report ( Full Report PDF, 34 pages) on these private youth boot camps, and it looks specifically into ten cases where teens died. Recommendation from Congress: Don't go there until regulation and oversight are put in place:
The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, also announced it has identified thousands of allegations of abuse, some involving death, at boot camps since the early 1990s. It cataloged 1,619 incidents of abuse in 33 states in 2005.

"Buyer, beware," said Greg Kutz, who led the GAO investigation. "You really don't know what you're getting."

Kutz said the GAO closely examined 10 closed cases where juveniles died at residential treatment camps. In half of those cases, the teens died of dehydration or heat exhaustion. Other factors were untrained staff, inadequate food or reckless operations, the GAO said.

Five of the 10 camps are still operating, some in different locations or under new names.

"Ineffective program management played a key role in most of these deaths," Kutz testified before the House Education and Labor Committee.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., who chairs the committee and requested the investigation, has sponsored a bill designed to encourage states to enact regulations.

"This nightmare has remained an open secret for years," Miller said in a statement. "Congress must act, and it must act swiftly."

The death of Bacon's son was one of the 10 cases studied by the GAO, but not the only one with an Arizona connection. The sample cases did not include names, but some were identifiable through news reports.

One was the death of Anthony Haynes, 14, at the American Buffalo Soldiers boot camp in Arizona in 2001.

One of the state's most high-profile camp deaths was that of Nicholas Contreraz, a 16-year-old Sacramento youth who died in 1998 while being subjected to discipline at the Arizona Boys Ranch near Queen Creek.

Bob Bacon's account was among those Wednesday that outraged House committee members.

Bacon said Aaron was sent to the camp because of minor drug use and poor grades. The father said he was fooled by the owners of the Utah facility into believing his son would be well cared for.

Instead, Aaron was forced to hike eight to 10 miles a day with inadequate nutrition and was not given protective gear to withstand freezing temperatures, Bacon said. When Aaron complained of severe stomach pains and asked for a doctor, his pleas were ignored even though he had dramatically lost weight and suffered from other serious symptoms, Bacon testified.

According to court documents, the boy's condition was ignored for 20 days, until he collapsed. The autopsy showed he died of an acute infection related to a perforated ulcer.

Five camp employees pleaded guilty to negligent homicide, and another was convicted of child abuse. All were sentenced to probation and community service.

Kutz testified that camp employees studied by the GAO were often poorly trained. He said kids weren't properly fed and were exposed to dangerous conditions, their cries for medical assistance ignored.

He said that in only one of the 10 sample cases was anyone found criminally liable and sentenced to prison.

The residential programs, designed to instill discipline and character, can be privately run or state-sponsored programs and sometimes include an educational or school-like component. They are loosely regulated by states. There are no federal laws that define and regulate them.

The programs are marketed to parents who are at a loss as to how to help emotionally troubled teens, Kutz said.

Jan Moss, executive director of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs, a trade group, said many kids have been helped by the treatment programs.

She said the industry is taking steps to improve, but she added, "Clearly we still have a very long way to go."

Kutz said there is no comprehensive nationwide data on deaths and injuries in residential treatment programs.

Auditors found thousands of allegations in lawsuits, Web sites and state records.

"Examples of abuse include youth being forced to eat their own vomit, denied adequate food, being forced to lie in urine or feces, being kicked, beaten and thrown to the ground," Kutz said, adding that one teen was reportedly "forced to use a toothbrush to clean a toilet, then forced to use that toothbrush on their own teeth."

At the boot camp where Anthony Haynes died, children were fed an apple for breakfast, a carrot for lunch and a bowl of beans for dinner, the GAO said.

Haynes became dehydrated in 113-degree heat and vomited dirt, according to witnesses. The program closed, and the director, Charles Long, was sentenced in 2005 to six years in prison for manslaughter.

The autopsy on Nicholas Contreraz showed that after Boys Ranch staffers punished and humiliated the teen for days, he suffered from a severe infection in the lining of his lungs. Five employees were charged criminally, but all counts were dropped. The ranch now operates under the name Canyon State Academy.

Julie Vega, Contreraz's mother, recently told The Arizona Republic, "I feel like he was sacrificed, and some good things changed for the better because of him. But nobody really paid a price for his death."


  1. Anonymous2:48 AM

    Do NOT send your child to Elan. Read this before you decide.

    Elan is a terrible tormenting place. If a child needs help Elan or places similar should never be considered. It should not even be allowed to be on a list of options. A child may need some time to find a positive path but just because Elan separates that child from the outside world for an extended period of time(two-three years unless you're lucky enough to be taken out or runaway and not be captured)doesn't mean it helps. All of the exits are guarded at all times by students. Being screamed at by four different people at once and let's estimate about an average of three times a day for two years is not just not healthy but is clearly insane.

    The first day I arrived at Elan I walked into a room where a "three house ring" and "general meeting" was being held. A boy's nose was the receiving end of a boxing glove and blood streaming down his face was the result from being in the "Ring". Then about one hundred and fifty students in rows of about five all "got their feelings off", which involves screaming and swearing in a persons face who is deemed to have done something "wrong" in the eyes of the so called "Directors" of the school that is a "General Meeting".
    ("General Meetings" could happen as often as two or more times a day. "Rings" happened occasionally, which consist of a circle of students surrounding the "offender" and the other student who are both wearing boxing gloves. The outside circle is taunting the offender while the two box. When the student gets tired another takes his or her place to be in the ring with the "offender")

    The "Directors" are the ones who tightly control each of the students lives. Reading students mail, having phone calls listened to so that nothing could breach their operation of making $50,000 a head a year per student.

    At night a student stays awake to guard the dorms of his or her gender. Every ten minutes for eight hours a night a "bed check" is conducted. Each student has their sheets lifted up and flashlight is shone on the students body to make sure they don't have any hidden clothing to take with them in the event that they try to run away. Could you imagine this happening for years? Can you imagine that students are expected, in positions of responsibility, to stay up all night and be a "night guard"? And if you fall asleep you will be punished and probably made to scrub the floors for a couple of days.

    "The Corner", which is really a term dubbed for being put into isolation, is used to take a child who is not conforming with Elan out of the population. Another student is then placed with them as a "support person". This support person could be subject to the other student acting out, which could involve attempts at self mutilation, being spat on, sworn at, screamed at, exposed to the students genitals, exposed to them masturbating for shock effect but Elan has a no kick out policy. The "support person" may be expected to physically restrain the acting out student. Sometimes the support person had to hold them down on the floor and have plastic restraints put on the student so his or her hands are behind his or her back. Sometimes this student who is acting out could be in the corner for over a month. Spending his or her days facing the corner of a wall and sleeping on a dingy mattress on the floor. This student could spend a month acting crazy like this and then stop and come out of "the corner" only to be put right back in because he or she starts acting out again. Usually there was at least one student in "the corner" for the two year period I was there. Also if the "support person" may take their eyes off this other student in "the corner" and he or she decides to self mutilate and succeeds then the "support person" will be stripped of his or her position of responsibility and made to scrub floors for a time of maybe two to three days. Can you believe that this is allowed to go on? A fifteen year old child being forced into this responsibility if he or she wants to succeed in Elan? Also that child who is"acting out" does so because he or she is standing up for themselves albeit it is in a damaging fashion but that is how a person may cope when being forced to stay in a place like Elan.

    The school curriculum, is fabulous for an unmotivated child, with no test, exams, or projects it couldn't be better. When parents receive news that their child, who was once possibly failing in school, is now getting great marks they could only think that Elan is doing something right. That is one of the tactics Elan uses to decept parents and school boards but ultimately rob that child of a real education.

    Could you imagine not being allowed to go outside when you want? When I was in Elan you pretty much got outside once a week for a gym class. If you were lucky you got to go out for special outings maybe once every month or two but that only happens after about six months, which I would say is about the average length of time it takes for the "brainwashing effect" to be fully active in a student. After that constant fear and guilt consumes a student and everything from brushing up against the opposite sex to taking a minute longer in the shower than is allowed is written down on a piece of paper and given to the powers at be. So basically everything that Elan deems as "wrong" is instilled through feeling immense guilt and usually eventually you fess up. When I was in Elan for about a month I played a trick on a staff member but nobody knew except me. A year later I told on myself. By the way Elan is co-ed but no physical or flirty behaviour is allowed. Can you imagine a house full of hormonal teens being watched over so severely that you're scared to look someone of the opposite sex in the eye for too long? I received a " general meeting" for being flirty. I had people scream and swear in my face for ten minutes because I am human. This is where the ultimate control happens and the "Directors" or staff were ruthless. They would scream and swear in your face and make you feel absolutely hopeless. They controlled the level of fear among the students.

    Can being around all of these things and many other detrimental things for years be conducive to grow up healthy? Because you really are growing up in Elan. Two or sometimes three years during your teens is crucial and Elan tears those pages right out of your life. THEY CAN NEVER BE REPLACED.

    My goal is to shut Elan down and have a sum of money be paid to a fund to find youth a positive, safe and nurturing environment to be placed in the event that they need help.

  2. Anonymous4:20 PM


    I was a “student “ at the Arizona Boys Ranch, Queen Creek, Arizona from 1959 through 1963. During that time Wendell R. Newell was Superintendent of the Ranch. Newell, more than any other single person, was responsible for building and directing the Ranch from its early days on. He and others were determined to create the best possible home experience for boys who really need a helping hand.

    The Ranch was a real working ranch with real-life experiences where a boy could live, learn and work. He’d have the opportunity grow into a man while getting a first-class education and learning various trade skills. His needs for food, clothing, and quality medical care, were readily and amply met. The Ranch could never replace a real home and family, but good people tried hard to make it the next best thing. Though not “loving,” per se, the environment was usually quite friendly and relaxed. The boys felt safe and secure there. They worked and studied hard. They played hard and were active in school functions and sports. They worshipped, each according to his faith, and learned to be responsible before God and man. Generally, they were respected in the communities around the Ranch. There were many good times, considerable routiness, and a lot of laughter. There were a lot of things we were unhappy about, too - most just the result of typical teenage attitudes. Other complaints were valid and were often addressed poorly or not at all. Most boys really didn’t want to be there. You couldn’t blame them - they wanted to be like “other kids” and have real homes and families. They didn’t have anywhere else to go, so they stayed. For the most part it all worked well and many young men benefited and indeed went on to have wonderful lives with families of their own.

    But, “the times they were a-changing.” In the middle of the 1960’s the Ranch, too, began to change. The “Professionals” arrived and began to have sway. After all, they really did know what these kids needed. These college educated “experts” in the social sciences generally, and “social welfare” and “behaviorist psychology” in particular, increasingly took over. B.F. Skinner replaced Father Flannigan and Wendell R. Newell. So came the “Behavioral Modification” programs, group sessions, endless “therapy” and endless prescription medications. There followed a stream of college students working on their degrees and their careers. They were eager to scrutinize, analyze, and document for future generations the condition of the troubled youth and his “progress” in the appropriate “developmental treatment program.”

    The NIGHTMARE OF BOYS RANCH had begun. These were no longer just homeless boys desiring a little love while struggling to live and belong; not just young boys who just needed a decent chance to grow into a decent man with a decent life. No, they had become “PATIENTS!” And, only the “Professionals” could properly deal with “PATIENTS!”

    The results have, for the most part, proved to be horrendous. The “Professionals” destroyed the “ranch” and replaced it with a “treatment facility.” They have, of course, moved on in their careers to develop newer and greater concepts in social engineering. Most are probably oblivious to the messed up lives they left behind. Worse, most couldn’t care less. The effect of this was not just upon the boys of the time, but also on those of us who were long gone. It affected the way people looked at us. People who knew or came to know that we were “Boys Ranch Boys” often saw us as “mental patients” – After all, “wasn’t that a “treatment facility?” Those conducting employment background investigations would also “discover” we had been “patients” in a “mental institution.” (I personally lost a life-long dream job I loved because of this. There were jobs no one would hire us for. At the time we didn’t even know why – there’s “confidentiality” you know.)

    After Boys Ranch I served in Vietnam, later gained a College degree, married a wonderful woman and raised a family. Today I am in my 60’s, permanently disabled from a debilitating stroke, and live alone. I’m happier “than a hunting dog with a duck” and thoroughly loving life. My life was by no means easy, but “I made it.” I appreciate what the Arizona Boys Ranch of the early years tried to do – I really do. But looking back: I wish to God I had never been there!

    In closing, I would like to extend to all the “Professionals” out there who helped to create the NIGHTMARE OF BOYS RANCH, and many just like it, my sincerest disdain.


  3. Danny8:12 AM

    Aren’t camps supposed to be the ones helping our teens to become better in exchange for our payment? I think with the torture that is happening I won’t consider paying a cent because I sent my kids to them because I want them to become better individuals and not to be treated as criminals.

  4. Anonymous4:06 PM

    i was there in 1964 and it really wasnt that bad.it wasnt like home but there was no abuse.rev newell and his family were fine people.how ever i did run away but i was a trouble maker.i to went to viet nam as a marine i did not enjoy that either.its a shame that the boys ranch gets so much bad pubblicity. robert riggs

  5. Such a sad commentary of America.

  6. Anonymous4:56 AM

    Are 12-13 year olds considered young adults?
    Programs for young adults

  7. Boys ranch survivor class of 97. I was at oracle and main ranch. that place was a hell hole. I don't know how Oracle was open and nobody ever went to jail from there. a good comparison would be the movie The Experiment. a bunch of punks on a power trip. Its been 18 years and I can still see and feel a certain staff member choking me out in my sleep for fun. Or being hog-tied and thrown into the deep end of the pool. what do you think would happen if I saw him today face to face

    1. I was sexually and physically abused , and tried once to report it that didn't go over well , I left in 1998 from civics conservation corps in Queen Creek Arizona and was sent to the main camp where I sat for a week and was humiliated and without explanation sent to gibault school for boys , since the torture and nightmares of being a ward off Indiana ,I have had little success and on the verge of being evicted from my apartment and I struggle with day to day choices and decisions...I haven't shared the horrors with anyone since I tried to report it and didn't even know Nick was killed..Date: Sun, 7 Jan 2018 19:05:58 -0800
      Subject: Arizona Boys Ranch
      Julie I recently read your article on ABR and to be honest it tripped some terrifying memories and the things that happened have affected my everyday life and functions . But anyways I was a resident there at the same time as me Nick Contrarras and and was taken away after his death without explanation . I was physically and sexually assaulted there , and I reported it to my state worker and to staff and was made to not wanna report anything again , I dunno I just wanted to see if I could make a difference or even feel better...please send me a email..

  8. I was in Arizona Boys Ranch for a total of 6 years and I was sent from Indiana. I was one of the longest people to do time there. I went there when I was 12 for skipping school and having problems that many kids around me were having in the neighborhood I grew up in. I didn't get out until Contreras was murdered by the staff members. And and reading all of what I just read on this page they didn't mention anything about the staff making us children Carry Contreras around in a wheelbarrow like a piece of garbage the day before he died. I am 39 years old now in my life has been a living nightmare since I left that place in 1998. I would watch staff members physically torture 15 year old children for 12 hours straight. And have to sit and listen to their screams all night and all day. And this also happened to me on multiple occasions. I don't understand how our government just brushes It Off as a one-time deal that Contreras got murdered. They knew things were going on for years at this place. And it was all just a big cover-up to make it look like we were being treated great when it was definitely comparable to what I've scene in concentration camps in Germany during World War II with better special effects and propaganda to make it look like a great place. Anyone that I have talked to or heard about that was in that place has either committed suicide, wound up in prison, or been involved in relationships that they can't even cope with like a normal person. I was one of the longest terms recorded in history at that place. The Oracle camp was definitely the real way the place was ran. The main Ranch was just the cover-up Ranch. Because they had Mount Lemmon Mount Verde and other camps where I experienced abuse in more ways than I can count or feel comfortable explaining on here. But it's good to hear that other people seeing the corruption that was going on there and how that place was a total failure and a reflection on how and why we have such a high incarceration rate in this country including child neglect when I hear all the time about people caring about children. I still have at least one nightmare a week about that place and wake up crying

  9. Anonymous4:01 PM

    85 to 88, main campus near queen creek. I was put in a full nelson choke hold, had my arms twisted and thrown into walls and kicked in the stomach over and over by a smiling staff while being held down by a 2nd. I was also threatened with death, told that I could be made to just 'disappear' and that they would say that I just ran away. They said they would drag me around behind a truck while they looked for a place to bury my body. I got away by running away (going AWOL) and living on the streets which was difficult but far better than staying there. On work detail they had us sucking down dirt in the bottom of a pit they built for an obstacle course that was there in the 80s by making us throw the dirt up with shovels instead of using buckets. There was also a great deal of psychological abuse, shaming and name calling. The staff on site were some real losers who got their kicks torturing kids. This was not tough love, this was abuse perpetrated by sick animals who had no business around kids. The abuse was REAL. Those who try to paint a pretty picture of the place or otherwise downplay the facts are downright liars.

  10. Anonymous4:02 PM

    85 to 88, main campus near queen creek. I was put in a full nelson choke hold, had my arms twisted and thrown into walls and kicked in the stomach over and over by a smiling staff while being held down by a 2nd. I was also threatened with death, told that I could be made to just 'disappear' and that they would say that I just ran away. They said they would drag me around behind a truck while they looked for a place to bury my body. I got away by running away (going AWOL) and living on the streets which was difficult but far better than staying there. On work detail they had us sucking down dirt in the bottom of a pit they built for an obstacle course that was there in the 80s by making us throw the dirt up with shovels instead of using buckets. There was also a great deal of psychological abuse, shaming and name calling. The staff on site were some real losers who got their kicks torturing kids. This was not tough love, this was abuse perpetrated by sick animals who had no business around kids. The abuse was REAL. Those who try to paint a pretty picture of the place or otherwise downplay the facts are downright liars.