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"

This June, Dallas County asked for outside contractors to submit bids to manage the boot camp facilities that CSC now operates. The county officials asked bidders to submit a rehabilitative model other than a boot camp.

CSC won the bidding over two rivals, Children's Comprehensive Services and Securicor New Century Corp. Stretcher says the former had its hands full with another county contract to provide schooling for students expelled from the local school districts, and the latter was too new to evaluate. CSC, Stretcher says, "presented the best option for us."

Rau says the differences between the boot camp and the new program are mostly semantic. "I can't really explain how these things happen. At some point the pendulum swings. We don't start the pendulum swinging. We do what the clients want. Boot camps are really just our regular facility with a little more regimentation dialed in."

The CSC-managed facility in Southern Dallas no longer houses emotionally disturbed juveniles. Dallas County ended the program after realizing it wasn't working.
Mark Graham
The CSC-managed facility in Southern Dallas no longer houses emotionally disturbed juveniles. Dallas County ended the program after realizing it wasn't working.

When CSC operated the Dallas County program for emotionally disturbed delinquents, the schedule for the juveniles in the specialized unit varied little from the regular regimen. At 5 a.m., all the youths were awakened for one hour of "physical training." Later in the afternoon, the emotionally disturbed kids were supposed to spend an hour in an anger-management class. Although many of the children were told in court that they would attend family counseling sessions, those programs failed to materialize.

Chris Wilson, who was sent to the CSC unit at 16 after kicking in his therapist's door, says a drill sergeant told him that "my mother was a faggot for having given birth to me." But his mother and grandmother, who repeatedly asked to attend a session, were not called in for one until Wilson had stayed there for three months.

Now 17 and a Garland high school junior, Wilson has been committed five times in his young life to psychiatric institutions. Doctors have diagnosed him with bipolar disorder and severe depression. In and out of the juvenile courts for three years, Wilson completed probation at the end of June.

Wilson's records in the juvenile courts describe his psychiatric treatment as "extensive." Since age 7, he has spent a month each at the psychiatric units of Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas and Parkland hospital and the Charter Behavioral Health Systems, spent a year in family therapy and was sent to a county mental health facility for two weeks.

Wilson claims that drill sergeants slammed him against the wall and squeezed his neck so hard they left handprints. When Wilson's grandmother called to complain, she says, the CSC doctor told her that Wilson had been examined "and the bruises on his neck were going away and that they had him restricted from any physical activity because of [a] sprained back."

Another time, Wilson alleges, he was punished for talking back while in a confinement room. The drill sergeant slammed his head against the concrete bench and split his chin and lower lip.

The CSC doctor overprescribed his medications to the point that, Wilson's mother recalls, her son would sit in a corner and drool.

In November 1999, Wilson complained to his probation officer that a fellow inmate had attempted to rape him. Wilson claimed that his attacker climbed atop his back while he slept, and while a crowd of other residents watched, tried to pull down his pants and sodomize him.

Within a month of Wilson's report, the county ordered the unit closed--although some of the emotionally disturbed residents remained there. Wilson, whose mother and grandmother had written numerous letters complaining about conditions, was transferred in early January 2000 to New Horizons Ranch, another treatment facility.

"The people there listened when you talked," says Wilson. In six months, he successfully completed the program and even wanted to stay. Off probation for less than a month now, he has so far kept out of trouble.

The same cannot be said for Brad.

When he talked to a juvenile department psychologist, Brad described in detail his cruelty to animals. He claimed to have shot cats with BB guns, thrown kittens to dogs, set a frog on fire and poured acid on a toad.

He told the evaluator he needed his medication to feel like "a normal person."

Since he was 15, he said he had smoked marijuana, tried cocaine, used acid and "huffed" Freon. He attempted suicide twice.

He has never received adequate attention for his emotional problems, says his grandmother, who describes the program at Terrell State Hospital as a "joke." Once Brad was released from there, a counselor visited him twice a week at home. He told her he should stop taking his medication, and she agreed, he says, leaving Brad in the manic condition he was in when he pulverized his grandmother's living room with the wrought-iron chair.

Once he was in CSC's program, Brad took it upon himself to get out.

At an afternoon anger-management session, led by the woman who had conceded to his grandmother that she was unprepared for the job, Brad recalls screaming: "I'm not fucking going to take this shit anymore." He threw chairs and encouraged his fellow delinquents to do the same. As he expected, Brad was taken to isolation.

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