Unhappy Campers

Critics of a private prison firm that ran two juvenile boot camps in Dallas wonder where the love is at these "tough love academies"

Not everyone shares the enthusiasm for CSC's programs. According to defense lawyers, parents, inmates and others familiar with the Dallas unit, the youths suffered from physical abuse from staff members, sexual assaults by other inmates and inadequate medical and psychiatric attention.

Only one part-time psychiatrist was available for the entire 96-bed facility. The CSC medical and counseling staff did not have the training or manpower to handle the intensity of the bipolar, depressed and otherwise emotionally disturbed children who entered the program, court records and accounts from family members of former inmates suggest.

At CSC boot camps in North Texas, drill instructors are hired at $7.46 an hour. Their training consists of observing other instructors for a week, before being put to work.

CSC's other local facility, on Harry Hines Boulevard, remains open but has toned down its boot camp regimen.
Mark Graham
CSC's other local facility, on Harry Hines Boulevard, remains open but has toned down its boot camp regimen.
Chris Wilson, who was housed at CSC's Southern Dallas facility and is pictured with his mother, Lisa Wilson, claims that CSC drill sergeants slammed him against the wall and squeezed his neck so hard they left handprints.
Mark Graham
Chris Wilson, who was housed at CSC's Southern Dallas facility and is pictured with his mother, Lisa Wilson, claims that CSC drill sergeants slammed him against the wall and squeezed his neck so hard they left handprints.

"There were a whole lot of people hired to do jobs they didn't know how to do," says one educator who taught at the facility, speaking on the condition that she not be identified. She worked for another company hired by the county to provide schooling at the CSC facility but quit after six months because she believed she and her staff, who went for weeks without offices or phones, were ill-equipped to handle their responsibilities. One fresh-out-of-college education major, she recalls, was handed the responsibility of developing a special education program.

"When you would go down there, the kids were literally unteachable. They were spitting and yelling obscenities," she says.

Brad certainly did his part to create the zoolike atmosphere.

Born to a mother who has been institutionalized for substance abuse, Brad was raised by his stepmother and father. When he was 11, the family moved to an isolated white supremacist community in Missouri. There, he told a Dallas County Juvenile Department psychologist, his father beat him with a rod. At 13, Brad ran away into the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri for two days. After he was found, his paternal grandmother took custody of him. (Brad is not his real name; he and his grandmother spoke on the condition that they not be identified.)

Once in Texas with his grandmother, it didn't take long for Brad to get in trouble with the law. In April 1997, when he was 14, he was caught shoplifting. During the next 18 months, he was charged with criminal mischief, evading arrest, public intoxication and lying to police about his name and age.

His grandmother sought help from the state's mental health services and had him in weekly individual and group counseling sessions. But Brad, who had not yet been diagnosed as bipolar, needed more. In March 1998, he grew angry when she grounded him for the evening. He pinned her to her bed, and while a Garland police SWAT team surrounded her house, he held her and two of his friends hostage. During the siege, Brad slit his own wrists and put blood on his friend's neck and displayed him through the window. When he was finally subdued, Brad was sent to Terrell State Hospital, where he began receiving medication for bipolar disorder, a condition marked by repeated episodes of depression and mania, deep lows followed by highs of mental and physical hyperactivity, disorganized thoughts and erratic behavior. Eight weeks later, he was released.

After the July 1999 attack on his grandmother, Brad was taken to the Dallas County juvenile detention center. A month later, state District Judge Hal Gaither committed him to the CSC boot camp. Initially, his grandmother welcomed the development. She believed the help she had sought had finally arrived.

But even behind bars he continued to misbehave and spent countless hours, sometimes shackled and handcuffed, seated on a concrete bench in a small confinement room that reeked of urine.

Brad, like many of his peers, did not meet with an individual counselor, family counselor or psychiatrist for months. When he did see a doctor, the juvenile simply told the psychiatrist to halt his prescribed drugs, and the physician agreed, according to records. "I was just like, 'Yeah, I'm doing a lot better now. I don't need those,'" Brad recalls. When his grandmother asked why the doctor had taken him off his medication, she received a letter that stated the CSC unit was an appropriate place to test Brad's thesis.

"Brad wasn't getting individual counseling, and I was not getting copies of his individual plan as I had been promised," she says.

The lack of promised counseling wasn't unique to Brad's case.

Attorney Craig Sargent represented a mentally retarded client sent to CSC's unit for emotionally disturbed kids. His client, he says, was also denied the family counseling he had been promised. At a hearing to determine whether the boy should be sent to a Texas Youth Commission facility, Sargent grilled a CSC drill instructor and program director Brown.

The instructor testified that despite working with the youth every day, she had not realized he was mentally handicapped.

"That would be important to know when you're addressing someone as far as their mental capacity and their ability to follow your directive, if they have any defect. Would you agree with me?" Sargent asked.

"Yes, sir," the employee replied.

For four months, CSC had been receiving $82 a day to treat the boy, Sargent notes.

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