The Miami Herald

Views vary on how to keep juveniles' behavior in line

The state calls them "pain compliance" techniques in the training manuals. Their very purpose is to cause pain.

And they work. For most of the boys who were the subjects of use-of-force reports at the Bay County Sheriff's Office Boot Camp, it took only one "pressure point" application to the side of the head to produce the desired behavior. The youths did whatever was asked of them.

But did the methods violate state and camp regulations?

The boot camp's policy-and-procedures manual, which essentially adopted the language of the state Department of Juvenile Justice's manual, allows officers to use physical force only "to protect others and/or themselves from bodily harm and to maintain order and security in the facility."

If the state's policy on physical force had been ambiguous, DJJ Secretary Anthony J. Schembri ended all confusion on June 21, 2004. "Physical restraint should be applied only to prevent a youth from hurting himself or others, and to prevent property damage or escape, " he wrote to DJJ administrators.

HANDLING 'MEAN KIDS'

But supporters of the boot camp say the officers desperately needed some leverage to get juvenile offenders to comply with even the most basic rules, such as getting out of their bunks in the morning.

"I see what goes through juvenile court, " said Waylon Graham, a Panama City attorney who represents Lt. Charles W. Helms, the second-highest-ranking officer at the camp. "These are belligerent, hostile, mean kids who willfully refuse to obey the rules of society. So they end up in a program that is trying to fix them.

"We're not talking about a Boy Scout troop here."

To be eligible for the program, the boys had to be 14 to 18 years old, and had to have committed at least one third-degree felony.

Until recently, when Florida juvenile justice officials began to reexamine the state's boot camp policies, Florida remained the only state in which officials tacitly approved the use of physical force to gain compliance with routine orders.

A GREEN LIGHT?

One state lawmaker, Rep. Gus Barreiro, the Miami Beach Republican who chairs the House committee that controls the purse strings for the state's juvenile justice agency, says DJJ administrators gave the five Florida sheriffs who ran boot camps the green light to use the kind of physical force that was forbidden in every other youth corrections program. DJJ officials have declined to comment on whether Barreiro's characterization is correct.

"I don't know of any state that allows the use of physical pain on children who are not hurting themselves or others in order to get compliance, " said Doris Layton MacKenzie, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, who has studied boot camps extensively.

"I've never seen anything to suggest that would be an appropriate management strategy for the treatment of juveniles, " MacKenzie added.

Jess McDonald, a child-welfare expert who headed the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services for almost a decade, called "abusive" the use of physical force on children who were not a threat to themselves or others.

"I don't think there's any literature that suggests these programs are in the least bit successful, " McDonald said. "The notion that you can physically abuse and assault kids in order to improve behavior boggles the mind. That is not how you improve the behavior of children entrusted in your care."




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