Every time a child dies in a tough love program, politicians say–as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush did on hearing of Martin Anderson's death last year in a boot camp–that it is “one tragic incident” that should not be used to justify shutting such programs down, says Reason magazine. There have now been nearly three dozen such deaths and thousands of reports of severe abuse in programs using corporal punishment, brutal emotional attacks, isolation, and physical restraint in an attempt to reform troubled teenagers.
Tough love has become a billion-dollar industry, says Reason. Several hundred programs, both public and private, use the approach. Somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 teenagers are currently held in treatment programs based on the belief that adolescents must be broken (mentally, and often physically as well) before they can be fixed. Exact numbers are impossible to determine, because no one keeps track of the kids in these programs, most of which are privately run. The typical way to end up in a government-run program, such as the camp where Anderson was killed, is for a court to give you the option of going there instead of prison. The typical way to end up in a private program is to be sent there by your parents, though judges and public schools have been known to send kids to private boot camps as well. Because they offer “treatment,” some private centers are covered by health insurance.