Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Justice Laughs in Florida

Federal investigators have been looking into boot camps and wilderness programs for troubled youths across the country. [pdf report here] [text report here]

They found, as the New York Times summarizes, "
thousands of allegations of abuse and neglect at residential treatment programs over the last 17 years. "
The numbers are sketchy because no federal agency collects national data, and in far too many states, monitoring of the camps is lax. A number of states regulate publicly funded programs, but don’t license or regulate the private programs.
An in-depth investigation into ten selected cases at privatized boot camps showed the deaths were due to --
ineffective management in most of these 10 cases, with program leaders neglecting the needs of program participants and staff. This ineffective management compounded the negative consequences of (and sometimes directly resulted in) the hiring of untrained staff; a lack of adequate nourishment; and reckless or negligent operating practices, including a lack of adequate equipment.
In Panama City, Florida, cause of death would have been put down as "undiagnosed sickle cell anemia." And, the judge would have laughed.
A number of defense attorneys appeared on Court TV following the verdict, and Bay County Circuit Judge Michael Overstreet, who presided over the case, watched from a chair in the courtroom on a television, sometimes laughing at the commentary.
Table 1: Summary of Victim Information
Case: 1;
Victim information: Female, 15, California resident;
Program attended: Utah wilderness therapy program (death occurred in
Arizona);
Date of death: May 1990;
Cause of death: Dehydration;
Case details:
* Died while hiking on fifth day of program;
* Exhibited signs of illness for 2 days, such as throwing up water,
falling down, and complaining of blurred vision;
* Collapsed due to dehydration;
* Lay dead for 18 hours on dirt road;
* Program brochure given to parents had advertised program staff as
"highly trained survival experts";
* Died on federal land.

Case: 2;
Victim information: Female, 16, Florida resident;
Program attended: Utah wilderness therapy program;
Date of death: June 1990;
Cause of death: Heat stroke;
Case details:
* Died while hiking on third day of program;
* Program had not considered child's adjustment from a coastal, sea-
level residence to a high desert wilderness area;
* Died of "exertional heatstroke" while hiking;
* Program owner acquitted of criminal charges but placed on state list
of suspected child abusers.

Case: 3;
Victim information: Male, 16, Arizona resident;
Program attended: Utah wilderness therapy program;
Date of death: March 1994;
Cause of death: Acute infection resulting from perforated ulcer;
Case details:
* Exhibited signs of physical distress for nearly 3 weeks, such as
severe abdominal pain, significant weight loss (20 percent of body
weight), loss of bodily functions, and weakness;
* Collapsed and became unresponsive;
* Air lifted to hospital and pronounced dead on arrival; * Died on
federal land.

Case: 4;
Victim information: Male, 15, Oregon resident;
Program attended: Oregon wilderness therapy program;
Date of death: Sept. 2000;
Cause of death: Severed artery;
Case details:
* Refused to return to campsite but did not behave violently;
* Restrained by staff and held face down to the ground for almost 45
minutes;
* Died of severed artery in neck;
* Death ruled a homicide;
* Grand jury declined to issue an indictment; * Died on federal land.

Case: 5;
Victim information: Male, 14, Massachusetts resident;
Program attended: West Virginia residential school and wilderness
therapy program;
Date of death: Feb. 2001;
Cause of death: Suicide (hanging);
Case details: * Attempted suicide twice before enrolling in program; *
On the fifth day of program cut arm several times with camp-issued
pocket knife; * Staff did not take the knife away; * Hung himself near
his tent the next day; * Program had no suicide prevention plan.

Case: 6;
Victim information: Male, 14, Arizona resident;
Program attended: Arizona boot camp;
Date of death: July 2001;
Cause of death: Dehydration;
Case details:
* On seventh day was punished for asking to go home;
* Forced to sit in 113-degree desert heat;
* Was delirious and dehydrated;
* Taken to motel room, placed in shower tub, left unattended;
* Staff returned victim to camp in the flatbed of a pickup truck and
placed his limp body onto his sleeping bag;
* Staff later found him unresponsive and he died at the hospital.

Case: 7;
Victim information: Female, 16, Virginia resident;
Program attended: Utah wilderness therapy program;
Date of death: Jan. 2002;
Cause of death: Massive head trauma;
Case details:
* Fell while hiking on Christmas Day;
* Staff had not scouted extremely dangerous area beforehand;
* Staff had no medical equipment, against its licensing agreement;
* Took about one hour for first paramedics to arrive;
* Died on federal land.

Case: 8;
Victim information: Female, 15, California resident;
Program attended: Oregon wilderness therapy program (also operated in
Nevada at time of death);
Date of death: May 2002;
Cause of death: Dehydration/ heat stroke;
Case details:
* Died while hiking on first day of program;
* Told others she had taken methamphetamines before the hike, but was
not screened for drug before hike;
* Experienced signs of distress for several hours while hiking;
* Collapsed and stopped breathing;
* Died of heat stroke complicated by the methamphetamines and
prescription medication;
* Died on federal land.

Case: 9;
Victim information: Male, 14, Texas resident;
Program attended: Utah wilderness therapy program;
Date of death: July 2002;
Cause of death: Hyperthermia (excessive body temperature);
Case details:
* On a 3-mile hike in desert heat;
* Complained of thirst and refused to continue hike;
* Left in the sun for an hour and stopped breathing;
* Staff member hid behind a tree for 10 minutes thinking the victim was
"faking" illness;
* Help arrived over an hour after death;
* Died on federal land.

Case: 10;
Victim information: Male, 15, California resident;
Program attended: Missouri boot camp and boarding school;
Date of death: Nov. 2004;
Cause of death: Complications of rhabdomyolysis due to a probable
spider bite;
Case details:
* Displayed signs of distress for several days;
* Program's medical officer told staff victim was "faking it";
* Became lifeless and could hardly move;
* Punished for being too weak to exercise and forced to wear a 20-pound
sandbag around his neck;
* Autopsy reported death was caused by complications of rhabdomyolysis
due to a probable spider bite, but also found numerous bruises all over
the victim's body.

1 comment:

Leanne Bryan said...

As unfortunate as these incidents are, the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs ("NATSAP") is a great resource for parents considering sending their child on a wilderness therapy program.