When the Government Accountability Office actually uses the word “nightmare” in a report about you.

It would appear that the Federal government is finally paying attention to something that’s so glaringly obvious that it would require a lobotomy not to take notice of; behavioral modification camps are both ineffective and potentially deadly. In a report released by the Government Accountability Office, (GAO) the group responsible for issuing reports on everything Congress looks at, there was documented a whole host of deaths from “behavioral modification camps” or, as our organization calls them rather succinctly, “Gulag Schools.”

These are the places where “problem children” are sent by their parents to be “straightened out” and made productive members of society. Sounds good so far right? I mean, who doesn’t think that there are a few kids who might do well with a slightly more authoritative method of discipline? While you can (and I certainly would) question who gives the parents the right to send their children to places that brag of being like military boot camp, you can’t question the disaster the can result. The GAO report actually spells it out far better than I could attempt to:

Roberto Reyes, 15, died of complications from a spider bite in November 2004 at Thayer Learning Center in Missouri, which describes itself as “a military based, Christian boarding school.” A state investigation concluded that the staff “did not provide adequate treatment,” the GAO said, but the state does not license such programs, and no criminal charges have been filed.

The staff tied a 20-pound sandbag around his neck when he was too sick to exercise, the GAO said. The family settled a civil lawsuit against Thayer for about $1 million. The facility’s owners denied wrongdoing. Messages left at the school and with its lawyer were not returned.

Ah yes, the ‘ole “Stop the spread of deadly spider toxin by tying a 20lb sandbag around the kid’s neck” trick! I must have skipped that day of first aid training back in Boy Scouts. But wait! There’s more!

At the American Buffalo Soldiers boot camp in Arizona where Anthony Haynes, 14, died in 2001, children were fed an apple for breakfast, a carrot for lunch and a bowl of beans for dinner, the GAO said.

Haynes became dehydrated in 113-degree heat and vomited up dirt, according to witnesses. The program closed, and the director, Charles Long, was sentenced in 2005 to six years in prison for manslaughter.

Must have missed a day in medical school when they talked about nutrition, because I’m pretty sure that an apple, a carrot and a bowl of beans don’t exactly fufill the FDA’s recommended daily amount of nutrients and calories. But hey, I’m no doctor, and apparently, neither are they. And since when is starving a kid to death only worth Manslaughter charges? What in the world was that DA thinking?

Thankfully, this report is part of a Congressional investigation led by Representative George Miller (D-CA). NYRA was actually at the hearing held Wednesday to listen to the various parents tell their horror stories. The hearing started inauspiciously enough, with Congressman Miller giving his views on the matter (the investigation was his idea) and then Congressman Howard McKeon (R-CA) the ranking Republican member of the committee put forth his own view on the matter. Unsurprisingly for a conservative, McKeon felt that this was a matter of the states and the industry itself to regulate. By about halfway through the hearing, he actually went back on what he said, claiming:

“It’s amazing to me, as the chairman said, if a parent just was recored abusing the child, the child would be taken away and the parents would go to jail. Then they’d have to prove their innocence. And yet here we have, just form the witnesses today, three deaths, and it looks to me that there’s no criminal action taken. Except for like a 5000 dollar penalty and maybe probation or something. What are the police doing about this?”

He pressed the GAO Investigator to provide answers, obviously unsatisfied with the facts being revealed to him:

“I’m sure that there are young people who have gone to these programs and benefited. I would imagine not that many people, but I think that is something we really need to look at. The concern I have is that there is apparently no law enforcement involvement in theses things. So you can have a bad actor, and no matter what field you’re in you can have a bad actor… my concern is if there is an incident where death and abuse occur, and there is some attention brought to them and there is some slight action brought to them as we’ve seen here, they might move to a new state and start all over again. While I’m generally opposed to government involvement, there are times where it has to happen. And if you have a case here where people can simply move to a different state to avoid prosecution, you need federal legislation.”

When testimony is so damning that it makes a Congressman immediately go back on what he said in under an hour, you know you’re onto something. The full video of the hearing (it’s somewhat dry procedural stuff, but the testimony from parents is both moving and tragic) can be found here.

I’m glad the issue is finally getting its proverbial day in court, not only that but that people are being moved by the tragic insanity of the situation. Hopefully, these investigations will lead to Congress finally passing laws to force these hell-holes to treat kids humanely, or at least hold themselve up to at least the minimum standards of treatment used by the United States Marine Corps that, while giving people the skills to fight wars, doesn’t seem fit to starve them to death or kill them through medical neglect.

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