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Lawmaker Wants Probe Of ‘Boot Camp’ For Juvenile Offenders

February 28, 1986 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Juvenile offenders from California are being sent to live in teepees at a Nevada wilderness camp that some officials compare to ″a Marine Corps boot camp out in the middle of nowhere,″ a congressman says.

Citing ″troubling reports of violence against some children,″ Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., called Thursday for an investigation of the use of federal foster care money to place the teen-agers at the Rite of Passage Wilderness Camp, located on the Walker River Indian reservation near Shurz, Nev.

″This program is located far from the children’s homes, in remote regions of another state, with minimal professional staff, physical facilities or services,″ Miller said in a statement.

The congressman, who chairs the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families, said the camp is not licensed, and noted that federal law prohibits paying for child placements in unlicensed facilities.

″Since the program does not provide any substantial services to children who actually live on the reservation, there is some reason to suspect that it is located there for one major reason, and that is to evade federal licensing requirements,″ he said.

Miller said he had received the allegations of physical abuse from California child welfare officials. He and Rep. Harry Reid, D-Nev., requested the investigation in letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Otis R. Bowen and Ross Swimmer, director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Miller’s office also released a Feb. 8 letter from the California Department of Social Services advising local officials to begin direct supervision of the treatment of foster children at the camp.

Noting the camp’s location on the Indian reservation, the letter stated that ″Nevada cannot provide the monitoring and supervision necessary for these potentially vulnerable children in a placement which Nevada describes as like ’a Marine Corps boot camp out in the middle of nowhere.‴

If county officials cannot monitor these children, ″then they need to be returned to your county,″ said the letter.

Jim McKenry, the camp’s co-director, said in a telephone interview that one probation officer had removed two children from the camp in December and filed charges of physical abuse. But McKenry said an investigation by local authorities has not resulted in any charges.


He said that a year ago, a camp employee was fired on suspicion of using excessive physical force, McKenry said. Although the evidence was inconclusive, ″in this business the bottom line is you’re really guilty until proven innocent.″

McKenry denied the camp was placed on an Indian reservation to evade federal licensing requirements. ″As far as using AFDC for out-of-state treatment centers, I guess our attorneys would have to research that,″ he said.

The 29 boys now at the camp are well clothed and live in large teepees equipped with canvass floors, he said. Kerosene heaters are used to warm the teepees on the coldest nights, when the temperature drops into the low 20s, he said.

″The entire emphasis of the program from the time they enter the program ... is the development of the positive self image through athletics,″ he said.

″The reason that a large number of these probation officers in Calfornia are attracted to this program is we’re kind of a last chance,″ he said. ″These kids have pretty much failed at other places.″

After graduating from the camp’s 90-day program, the boys are sent to a group home near Gardnerville, Nev., McKenry said. After their release to the community, 85 percent of the graduates of the two-year-old program have not committed any other juvenile offenses, he said.