Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Congress investigates teen boot camp abuse

October 10, 2007

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WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 10, 2007 (NBC) -- Desperate to help their troubled children, many parents have turned to so-called wilderness boot camps.

But a new study out Wednesday by the federal government warns that thousands of kids are being abused in the mostly unregulated programs and at least ten have died. Some lawmakers want the federal government to step in and stop what they call institutionalized child abuse.

The problem goes back at least to the 1990's, when Aaron Bacon died at a boot camp in Utah. Concerned about his pot smoking, Aaron's parents sent him for what they thought would be wilderness self-awareness. In fact, his father testified Wednesday, Aaron was force marched and starved to death.

Aaron's father, Bob Bacon said he suffered "twenty one days of ruthless and relentless physical and psychological abuse and neglect."

The government study released Wednesday found ten boot camp deaths.

Gregory Kutz of the General Accountability Office said, "Many of these kids died slowly while program management and staff continued to believe that they were faking it."

Erica Harvey collapsed and died at her Nevada camp in 2002.

Security video shows 14 year old Martin Anderson after being beaten in a Florida program last year. He died after the beating. Eight employees are on trial for manslaughter in that case.

The new study says parents of troubled teens are desperate.

The websites of camps like Alldredge Academy are reassuring. The programs look safe. But Alldredge was ordered closed after the suicide of 14-year-old, Ryan Lewis, who earlier slashed his arm.

Ryan's dad Paul Lewis said, "Ryan was ignored and consequently at 730 on a cold rainy night, desperate, alone and abandoned our son hung himself."

Alldredge has reopened.

An association of residential programs says it's cracking down. Jan Moss, executive director of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs said, "Clearly we still have a very long way to go."

Right now it is the states that regulate, or don't regulate, these tough love programs. Some lawmakers want to change that so that all boot camps are regulated.