03/15/2006 12:08 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Surprise: Boot Camp Boy Didn't Die of Sickle Cell

Well, Florida prosecutors have confirmed what those of us who have been following the boot camp death of Martin Lee Anderson suspected: the fourteen-year-old boy died as the result of being beaten by guards, not from sickle cell trait.

But while the beating was the proximate cause of death, what really killed him was willful ignorance on the part of the government. Florida officials didn't pay attention when the Department of Juvenile Justice made an exception to allow "pain compliance" techniques to be used on nonviolent children that aren't permitted for death row inmates or prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

They ignored study after study after study, finding that boot camps do not reduce recidivism when compared to ordinary juvenile prison (where, at least kids have the right not to be beaten by guards). They ignored the Justice Department's review of those studies, which lists boot camps as an intervention that "doesn't work." [pdf]

They ignored the National Institutes on Health Consensus statement on dealing with juvenile violence and delinquency, which again found that boot camps and other programs that use tough treatment don't work and "there is some evidence that they may make things worse, rather than simply not working."

And they ignored plain old common sense, which suggests that hitting kids, kicking them, smashing ammonia in their faces, pushing "pressure points" to use pain to get compliance--all of which were done to Anderson as he died-- is neither humane, nor effective in rehabilitating difficult teenagers.

Florida should pay a heavy price for its reckless disregard of these truths and should shutter its boot camps immediately. Whether or not the staffers who "just followed orders" can be criminally convicted, there should be no further opportunity for such orders to ever be given and for another set of parents to face such a terrible loss.