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"Tough love"--or torture?

Martin Lee Anderson was sent to a "boot camp" for delinquents in Bay County, Florida, on January 5 for violating the terms of his probation. The slender, rangy 14-year-old collapsed during the camp's introductory calisthenics program. Evacuated by helicopter to Pensacola hospital, Anderson died the next day.

The Bay County coroner concluded that Anderson died from natural causes related to sickle cell trait. The young man's family, and others who reviewed an hour and 20 minute videotape taken by security cameras, believe that Anderson died as the result of being beaten for a half hour by guards.

State representative Gustavo Barreiro, the Republican chair of the legislature's Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, reports that the video depicted the unresisting teenager being repeatedly hit, kicked, and kneed by a swarm of large adult males. "When you see stuff like that," Rep. Barreiro observed, "you want to go through the TV and say, 'Enough is enough.'"

The episode offers a terrifying glimpse of the "behavior modification" (BM) industry, of which teen boot camps are merely one example.

BM programs are advertised as a variety of "tough love." This concept appeals to the reasonable belief that some adolescents inclined toward violent crime or self-destructive behavior need both strong discipline (toughness) and compassion (love). This approach, when built on a foundation of biblical principles, can and does yield positive results, since it is designed to cultivate within each participant a sense of responsibility--to others and to himself--within the framework of God's law.

BM programs, however, are secular exercises in tearing down willful personalities and re-casting them as conformists. Where the approach typified by Father Flanagan and his legendary "Boys Town" is motivated by Christian charity, the motives of many involved in the BM industry are mercenary and ideological.

The boot camp where Anderson died, notes the February 27 Naples News, was one of roughly 50 camps established in 30 states beginning in the late 1980s. Studies on recidivism rates of boot camp graduates, including a 2004 report from the National Institutes of Health, have documented "little if any improvement from more traditional juvenile justice programs."

In addition to boot camps, there is a network of quasi-private BM programs, some of which operate offshore in Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Samoa, and elsewhere. Others are wilderness programs like the one featured in the short-lived ABC "reality" series Brat Camp. Tens of thousands of American teenagers are enrolled in such programs. Many of them were forcibly taken from their beds early in the morning by rented thugs who--with parental authorization--seized the teens, restrained them with handcuffs if necessary, and delivered them into the custody of the BM programs.

Most of the abductees are not criminals, but merely the rebellious offspring of parents who have been convinced by the BM industry that ordinary adolescent misbehavior is symptomatic of potentially lethal problems. Those problems, of course, can only be solved--for the price of an Ivy League education--through BM programs, which though advertised as "tough love," too often amount to little more than systematic sadism.

Many BM programs, writes Maia Szalavitz in her new book Help at Any Cost, "utilize punishments banned for use on criminals and by the Geneva Conventions. Beatings, extended isolation and restraint, public humiliation, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, forced exercise to the point of exhaustion, sensory deprivation, and lengthy maintenance of stress positions are common."

At one BM facility in Puerto Rico, writes Szalavitz, "teens were found bound and gagged with nooses around their necks." In 2001, Mexican authorities discovered a facility run by the Utah-based World-Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) in which teens had been locked in dog cages. At a WWASP camp in Samoa, refractory teens were sentenced to lengthy confinement in a three-foot by three-foot box similar to North Vietnamese "tiger cages."

Amberly Knight, a WWASP whistle-blower who administered a camp in Costa Rica, testified that American "children were imprisoned in deplorable conditions that we would not tolerate for adult death row inmates in America." When the atrocities at Abu Ghraib were made public, Knight was "horrified," because "that's what they do [at some WWASP facilities] every single day."

The pedigree of contemporary BM programs can be traced to a now-defunct federally funded program called The Seed.

A 1974 investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee found that The Seed employed methods similar to the "highly refined 'brainwashing' techniques employed by the North Koreans" against U.S. prisoners of war.

While honorable people can disagree about the best way to deal with troubled teens, there's little reason to doubt that the communist-derived BM approach is the worst.
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Title Annotation:Martin Lee Anderson died in a boot camp
Author:Grigg, William Norman
Publication:The New American
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 20, 2006
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