CCHR Demands Stronger Accountability in Troubled Teen Behavioral Industry

Troubled Teen Behavioral Industry
Mental health watchdog says children are being killed by abusive and negligent practices in the $23 billion-a-year troubled teen behavioral industry, and the lack of effective oversight, accountability and justice continues to put them at risk

LOS ANGELES - nvtip -- Greater oversight and accountability are needed in the industry treating "troubled teens," demands the Citizens Commission on Human Rights International. Since the 1980s, CCHR has exposed how children and teens have been violated and abused in behavioral treatment facilities—everything from wilderness or boot camps and behavioral residential facilities to psychiatric hospitals. Despite improved regulations, however, the abuses continue, indicating a lack of forceful accountability in the $23 billion-a-year "child abuse" industry.[1]

The recent chilling Netflix documentary, "Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare," has further brought this issue to light. It delves into the harrowing reality of ongoing child rehabilitation programs, exemplified by one camp. According to a review of the film, children were abducted with unwitting parental consent, forced to embark upon a 500-mile hike across the Utah desert, and subjected to further brutality upon reaching the camp.[2]

Victims tell stories of being beaten, hog-tied, starved and sexually abused in the camps.[3] The documentary features Paris Hilton, who has publicly shared her experiences in a youth treatment center in 1999 called Provo Canyon School in Utah. Hilton's testimony to Congress and elsewhere included details of abuse she suffered, such as being strangled, slapped, and watched in the shower by male staff.[4]

Hilton has lobbied for Provo's closure and in April 2023 helped get the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act introduced.[5] Supported by CCHR, the bill would establish a federal work group to study problems in the industry.

Helping to spur this movement against the troubled teen industry was the 2020 death of a 16-year-old African American foster youth, Cornelius Fredericks, who was restrained at a now-closed for-profit behavioral facility in Kalamazoo, Michigan, owned by the former Sequel Youth and Family Services. The teen was violently restrained for throwing a sandwich. In 2023, two youth counselors were sentenced for their part in the deadly restraint that led to a lack of blood flow and oxygen resulting in his death from a heart attack. The two counselors restraining him, both pled no contest to involuntary manslaughter and were sentenced to 18 months' probation. The former director of nursing at the for-profit hospital was also sentenced to 18 months' probation.[6]

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Jan Eastgate, President of CCHR International, said, "Youths are dying in behavioral 'therapy' facilities across the country from restraints and psychiatric treatment. Their lives are of such little consequence that the lethal violence to which they are subjected can result in a sentence usually given to low-level offenses."

In other circumstances, a person can face five to ten years in prison for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.[7] "We've got to stop punishment being passed off as therapy and prosecute accordingly to prevent further abuse," she said. That also needs to be backed by legislative protections for troubled children and teens.

Utah is home to almost 100 youth residential centers that cost upward of $30,000 for each teen's "treatment." Four deaths have occurred in these facilities since 2021, with 37 lawsuits filed against centers between 2010 and 2020.[8]

"Hell Camp" documents how in one camp three times per week there were mandatory "group therapy" sessions, during which one member of the program would stand and divulge personal information about themselves. The group was expected to verbally attack the speaker, screaming and jeering cruel commentary in an attempt to find the most vulnerable parts of the presenter to tear them down.[9] Also known as "attack therapy," a Psychology Today article in 2022, noted: "These are exercises in degradation that could easily stamp out any semblance of individuality."[10]

One of the earliest versions of such programs, the now-defunct Synanon, was founded in 1957 by Charles Dederich, a reformed alcoholic. Its inception followed the founder's involvement in a program administered by two doctors associated with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)'s MKULTRA mind-control program, where he was given LSD.  By the mid-1960s, research psychologists were part of the facility's "first generation leadership," and later included Steven Simon, Ph.D., a doctoral student at Harvard. Simon's affiliation was in a period that followed the Psychology department at Harvard also performing research for MKULTRA.[11]

A Congressional investigation in 1971 into such behavior-modification programs, found that the methods used were "similar to the highly refined brainwashing techniques employed by the North Koreans."[12]

The programs, also known as "encounter groups," faced exposure in 2007, when Mother Jones reported that studies had found that "'encounter groups' could produce lasting psychological harm." It further stated that troubled-teen programs use similar tactics, "advertising themselves to parents as solutions for everything from poor study habits to substance misuse."[13]

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In light of the ongoing tragedies within the troubled teen behavioral industry, CCHR adamantly demands stronger accountability and penalties for the systemic abuse and neglect inflicted upon vulnerable youth. The group says the federal Stop Institutional Child Abuse Act is a crucial step towards ensuring that the lives of troubled teens are prioritized over psychiatric-behavioral corporate profits.

About CCHR: CCHR was founded in 1969 by the Church of Scientology and the late Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry. It has helped achieve over 190 laws to protect patient rights, including the 2004 federal law prohibiting schoolchildren from being forced to take psychotropic drugs as a requirement for staying in school.













Amber Rauscher

Source: Citizens Commission on Human Rights International

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