Congress Inspects Juvenile 'Boot Camps' Congress is holding hearings Wednesday on the issue of juvenile "boot camps." It's looking into why children have died at some camps, as well as allegations that kids have been beaten and molested by camp counselors.
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Congress Inspects Juvenile 'Boot Camps'

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Congress Inspects Juvenile 'Boot Camps'

Congress Inspects Juvenile 'Boot Camps'

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

Today, legislators on Capitol Hill take up the issue of juvenile boot camps. These are facilities to try to reform troubled teens by subjecting them to strict militaristic regimens. Parents and former campers have raised serious concerns that some of these boot camps take discipline too far.

CHADWICK: Kids say they've been beaten, humiliated, even molested by camp counselors. Some children have died in these places. Democratic Congressman George Miller of California chairs the congressional committee that's holding hearings on the boot camps.

Representative GEORGE MILLER (Democrat, California): This nightmare has remained an open secret for years. Sporadic news accounts of specific incidence have built a record that should never have been ignored, but shamefully, it was. And the federal government has completely failed to grasp the urgency of this situation.

COHEN: One of the boot camps that's being investigated in Washington is the Thayer Learning Center, located in Kidder, Missouri. A 15-year-old boy died at Thayer three years ago.

Steve Rock of the Kansas City Star has been following the story since then. He joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. STEVE ROCK (Correspondent, Kansas City Star): Hey, Alex. Thanks for having me on.

COHEN: You've been investigating the Thayer Learning Center for quite some time now. What have you been able to find out about what they do there to try to reform kids?

Mr. ROCK: What I can tell you is what people have told us - former employees, former students, parents of former students. And what many of them have told us is that they have a very strict discipline. They're very military-like. There, it is apparently very - fairly routine to deny restroom breaks and bathroom breaks. Children defecate and urinate on themselves with some degree of regularity, as I understand it. And the allegations, trust me, are much worse than that.

Again, they are allegations. No charges have ever been filed, but the allegations that have been found in police reports are as disturbing as children being forced to sit in tubs of urine and children being dragged behind four wheelers around a dirt track. These things are things that I have not seen personally, but I've spoke with people who have or who at least say they have. And again, they are troubling allegations, but at this point that's what they are.

COHEN: It's curious that charges haven't been filed, given the grave nature of some of these accusations. Any idea why they haven't been filed?

Mr. ROCK: Now, you know, that's a terrific question. A lot of people have asked the same question. They've asked us that question, and frankly, we don't know the answer. We took a lot of the reports that we've got - police reports - and we actually presented them to other prosecuting attorneys outside of Caldwell County. Caldwell County is where Thayer Learning Center is located. And they've said that there's certainly enough there that charges could be filed if they were so inclined.

What I will tell you is that the Caldwell County prosecutor - who is no longer the prosecutor. He's now the judge. He has said that it, you know, being a private facility, it is very difficult to get in there and ask questions, and it's difficult to get access to students. And it's difficult to get access to records just because they oftentimes get turned away at the door. Now I do think that ultimately, a search warrant would provide that access, but they have not gone down that road.

COHEN: Similar allegations of abuse have surfaced at other boot camps in other states. What's being done to try to change the situation?

Mr. ROCK: Well, I think that's exactly what George Miller's trying to do. He's trying to collapse these private facilities that basically operate in a vacuum, that have no state oversight, that have no federal oversight. He's trying to convince Congress that, hey, there needs to be something done here. At least provide some financing to the states so that they can go in and make sure that as allegations come up, that there are - is a mechanism in place to go in there and knock on the door.

As it exists right now in Kansas or in Missouri, I suppose, is that if there are allegations made and the state chooses to investigate, if they go knock on the door at Thayer Learning Center, Thayer Learning Center can say, you know what? We don't want to produce that child. We don't want to talk to you guys. And they can, within their rights, shut the door. And what they're trying to do is make it a little bit more difficult to do that.

COHEN: Steve Rock of the Kansas City Star, thanks so much.

Mr. ROCK: Hey, thank you.

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