THE BLOG
05/31/2006 08:56 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Like Nixon to China? Florida Boots Teen Boot Camps

As those who've read my posts or my book know, Florida and the teen tough-love industry have a long and twisted relationship. One of the first teen behavior modification programs to use the Synanon model of breaking teens with fear, corporal punishment, emotional attacks and isolation, The Seed, was founded there in 1971 and managed to "treat" some 5,000 teens before a Congressional report compared it to "Korean brainwashing" and stopped further expansion.

Unfortunately, that was far from the end of the program's methods: former staff and involved parents simply founded an even more abusive program under a new name: Straight Inc. It managed to operate from 1978-1993 and still has descendents open in Florida and elsewhere.

But today, I have to give Florida credit. Governor Jeb Bush just signed into law a bill named for Martin Lee Anderson that bars corporal punishment in state tough-love boot camp programs for juvenile offenders, de-funds the existing ones, and requires that teens have access to an abuse-reporting hotline.

Anderson, of course, was the 14-year-old boy who was killed by guards using "pain compliance" tactics in a sheriff's boot camp. He was smothered when guards shoved ammonia up his nose and held his mouth shut. Use of chemicals, kicks, punches and electric shocks had been allowed for boot camps, though banned in other youth programs in the state.

Now, if only Florida would ban corporal punishment in *all* residential youth programs and the feds would follow suit, similarly requiring access to abuse-reporting hotlines. And, of course, those abuse reports need to be taken seriously by regulators and appropriate funding given to ensure proper investigation.

This could be the Nixon-to-China moment tough love opponents have been waiting for: if Governor Bush -- friend of Straight founder Mel Sembler and board member of the Drug Free American Foundation (which is what the Straight foundation became after the teen programs closed) -- can ban corporal punishment in state programs and mandate abuse-reporting, maybe federal regulation or uniformly tough state regulations are not beyond possibility.