FBI investigating abuse at juvenile boot camps

One juvenile offender says a boot camp guard broke his wrist

CNN/December 21, 1999

Washington -- The FBI is investigating reports of abuse and assaults on teens at two military-style boot camps, prompting officials across the country to re-examine their "get-tough" policies against juvenile offenders.

The FBI is looking into the case of Gary Johnson Jr., a 15- year-old boy who suffered a broken wrist after just one day at a Maryland juvenile boot camp. The boy has accused a guard of assaulting him.

"He pulled my wrist behind my back and he was pulling me up," Johnson said. "He bent my wrist back and I heard it snap."

Similar reports of abuse prompted Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening to indefinitely suspend the state's boot camp program. The Maryland National Guard will supervise juveniles at the state's three camps in the interim.

Maryland's Lt. Gov. says that an investigation is underway and if convicted, guards will be be fired

Earlier this month, juveniles summoned before a judge in Baltimore testified guards had thrown them through windows, stuck thumbs in their eyes and routinely issued beatings.

"This was an abuse of power, an unconscionable abuse of authority," said Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, whose responsibilities include oversight of the juvenile justice system.

The allegations of abuse have also prompted the resignation or firing of five state officials, as well as an investigation by the FBI.

"We're monitoring the entire situation," FBI spokesman Peter Gulotta said. Johnson's case is being investigated as a possible civil rights violation in which "someone acting within the scope of their law enforcement position ... would violate someone's rights through excessive force."

One critic say that more help is needed to reform juveniles

The agency is also investigating a more serious incident in South Dakota, after a 14-year-old girl died after being forced to participate in an "endurance hike."

The "get-tough" approach and relatively low-cost of boot camps have made juvenile programs very popular with politicians and voters since they were first introduced in 1983.

But critics charge that the 50 juvenile boot camp programs currently operating in the United States have done little to reform teen offenders and reduce crime.

Doris Leyton MacKenzie, a juvenile crime expert at the University of Maryland, said that military-style discipline isn't enough to help juveniles once they leave the camps.

"It's not going to help them with education, it's not going to help them change their cognitive skills, it's not going to increase their employability," she said.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.