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Narratives Unheard - Claims Denied

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: October 4, 1998
Faculty on the Site.

NEW NEW Indictments in Youth's Death

In Memoriam: A Child Is Dead Some Poignant Dialog
Update: Camp Still Certified
Problems with Privatizing Prisons Travis' Story
Online Reference Search Reference Links Book Search

RELATED THEORY "A Refusal to Believe the Child's Account"

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In Memoriam

A Child is Dead For Want of a Way to Make His Validity Claim Heard

On Saturday, June 13, 1998, Julie Cart, of the Los Angeles Times exposed the tragic death of 16-year-old Nicholas Contreras in "A Puzzling Death at Boys Ranch." (At p. 1). Nick was a troubled youth who had not adjusted well to his father's death in a drive-by shooting three years ago. California, whose policy is to keep only the worst offenders in the California Youth Authority, sent him to an Arizona Boys' Ranch, which costs the state far less than the CYA. There he became ill, but was unable to convince the camp guards that he was not "faking it." After two weeks of the continued imposition of strenuous physical therapy, despite constant vomiting and complaint of illness, Nick died.

Cart reports that an autopsy revealed "2 1/2 quarts of pus in the lining of his chest, causing his left lung to partially collapse. . . 71 cuts and bruises on his body . . . strep and staph infections, pneumonia and chronic bronchitis. A pathologist said that a massive infection had been incubating for some time and that Nick must have been visibly ill for weeks."

Cart ends the article that covers nearly two entire pages of the main section of the paper:

"An exchange, from the report {on the ranch] between Nick's case manager and the investigator:

Det. Downing: Something was wrong with him the last two weeks of his life.

Torres: I disagree with that, Det. Downing. [It was] his ruse to [get] out of the program, I don't feel [it] had anything to do with his health. I looked at it as his way to get out of the program. . . . His way of lying and making up, you know, a fictitious story.

Downing: Obviously there was a problem. He died.

Torres: Yes."

If ever the faculty on this site searched for a clear example of theprivileging of subjectivity we have found it in that last exchange. What could we have taught young Nick that might have helped him break through the bad faith, helped make himself heard in some way other than with his last words, when he was told to get up from the floor and engage in more physical exercise? He said simply, "No." And then he died.

What could we say to the counselors, the guards, the adults in charge of this deathly ill young man that might have made them hear them in good faith?


On July 1, 1998, on p. A11 of the Los Angeles Times, journalist Julie Cart reported that the "Arizona Department of Economic Security . . . would temporarily extend the operating license of the Arizona Boys Ranch pending the completion" of the March 2 death of Nicholas Contreras.

According to Fox Butterfield's article in the New York Times, California removed its juveniles from the Arizona Boys Ranch on July 8, 1998.

further Update

On Friday, October 2, 1998, the Los Angeles Times reported on page one that "five former employees of Arizona boys Ranch" had been indicted by an Arizona grand jury. Article by Julie Cart on page 3 of that edition of L.A. Times: "5 Indicted in Death at Arizona Youth Ranch." Torres, whose dialog appears above, was not one of those indicted. The nurse, Linda Babb, who cleared the youth for "rigorous" exercise, was one of those indicted in two counts each, one of child abuse, and one of manslaughter. The counts carry a maximum sentence of 12 1/2 years each.

Children's rights advocates continue to press for further actions, which are under investigation. The FBI continues its investigation of Nicholas Contreras' death.

Link here to the WebBoard WebBoard WebBoardwhere you will find a discussion topic on this issue under Deviance, Crime, and Justice tutoring board, under the topic: "Death of a Child." Use this discussion to work on pieces you would like to add to Dear Habermas as process text.

References on Juvenile Justice

Online Search

I went on the LA Times site to see if there were any ready sources offered for those of you who wish to pursue this dreadfully painful issue. There were not. But YAHOO yielded some quick references to the California Youth Authority home page, bibliography, and related sites.

SEARCH TIPS: Choose the Government category, then search for juvenile justice. That should get you started. Then just explore!

If you have TROUBLE finding your way back to Dear Habermas go to the CSUDH Home page, choose Academics, and there, under Sociology, you will find a link back to Dear Habermas.

Some Reference Links from Our Online Search

California Youth Authority's (CYA) Homepage.This will provide a conservative approach, not a critical theory approach, for this is an official government agency. Bear that in mind. Always establish the context in which your source is situated. (That's a tenet of reflexive methodology, methodology that questions its own perspectives and unstated assumptions, and tries not toprivilege its own subjectivity.)

More CYA material, includes reports, bibliography.

Information on juvenile crime in California by Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) Move back through the pages to discover how to obtain LAO documents.

ACLU sponsored JUVENILE JUSTICE: UNPLUGGED: A Field Investigation By and For Students. This one will have a more critical approach since that is one of the ACLU's roles.

ACLU's Criminal Justice page. Again this source will take a more critical approach.

Charts of California Juvenile Justice System Should help you find paths to many more sites, at least the official ones for the apologetic or justification approach.

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Problems with Privatizing Prisons
Tallulah Correctional Facility in Louisiana

This was a front page article in the N.Y. Times, on July 15, "Profits at Juvenile Prisons Earned at a chilling Cost," by Fox Butterfield, and located on the N.Y. TimesWeb site, under Juvenile Justice, that same day.

Review and Essay by Jeanne

"Some of the worst conditions in juvenile prisons can be found among the growing number of privately operated prisons, whether those built specifically for one state, like Tallulah, or ones that take juveniles from across the country, like boot camps that have come under criticism in Colorado and Arizona. . . .

In April, Colorado officials shut down a juvenile prison operated by Rebound Corp. after a mentally ill 13-year-old's suicide led to an investigation that uncovered repeated instances of physical and sexual abuse. The for-profit prison housed adolescent offenders from six states. Both Arizona and California authorities are investigating a privately operated boot camp in Arizona that California paid to take hundreds of offenders. A 16-year-old boy died there, and authorities suspect the cause was abuse by guards and poor medical care. California announced July 8 that it was removing its juveniles from the camp."

These are some of the stories we would rather not hear. Profit from misery and abuse in the name of justifiable punishment cannot be tolerated in a just and legitimate society. We question, on this site, the very legitimacy of punishment, reviewing the extensive literature which shows that punishment aimed at control rarely builds the intrinsic motivation that leads to self and community responsibility. (See Alfie Kohn's work, Rewards that Punish.) Never forget that Thorndike repealed his second law of learning, that behaviors that were punished would extinguish themselves, as being inaccurate. Now Alfie Kohn is set to repeal Thorndike's first law of learning, that behaviors that are rewarded will be learned. Yes, says Kohn, if you're interested in "trained" creatures, but not if you want intrinsically motivated human beings.)

So what are we teaching the young people in our privatized prisons? Is behavior that we want to discourage being extinguished? Unlikely. Read Kohn. Review the literature on behaviorism. Are they incapacitated from further wrongdoing in the midst of our community? Well, yes, as long as they are in these privatized prisons. But that hardly solves the problem of bringing them into a community in which they can function in public discourse. These are some of the problems of the 21st Century. How do we keep ourselves from becoming an auto-poietic non-learning community? How especially when we know the body of literature on the ineffectiveness of punishment and rewards as compared to intrinsic motivation?

Travis' Story: Another 16-Year-Old

Travis is a 16-year-old who was "sentenced by a judge to 90 days for shoplifting and stealing a bicycle. But every time he failed to stand for a guard or even called his grandmother to complain, officials at Tallulah put him in solitary and added to his sentence." (at p. 14)

Travis . . .is mentally retarded and was also treated with drugs for hallucinations. . . .Sometimes, Travis said in an interview after his release, guards hit him because his medication made him sleepy and he did not stand to attention when ordered. . . . After 15 months, a judge finally ordered him released so he could get medical treatment. His eardrum had been perforated in a beating by a guard, he has large scars on his arms, legs and face and his nose was so badly broken that he speaks in a wheeze. A lawyer is scheduled to file suit against Tallulah on behalf of Travis." (at p. 14)

About a week ago,"the Southern Poverty Law Center (which provides Teaching Tolerance on the Dear Habermas KIDS' Page) filed a Federal lawsuit against Tallulah to stop the brutality and neglect." (at p. 14)

According to Butterfield's account, Louisiana doesn't want to spend what would be needed for the education of these adolescents, 25% of whom are mentally ill. But there is hope in this postmodern world. "Richard Stalder, the secretary of Louisiana's Department of Public Safety and Corrections" indicates that the Department is planning "a special unit for mentally ill juvenile offenders. One likely candidate to run it, he said, is Trans-American, the company that operates Tallulah."(Emphasis added.)

Go to the New York Times Site. Do an online reference search. Become aware of the many perspectives that have no voice, of the many claims that are not heard in good faith. We, as a community, bear a responsibility to listen in good faith.

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"A Refusal to believe the Child's Account"

The theoretical term for this is the "privileging of subjectivity," the certainty that one's perspective of the world and the situations within it are the only "true" and "accurate" perceptions and that they are "neutral" and "objective." The two sixteen-year-olds whose stories appear on these pages bring the arrogance of that privileging home to us. Alfie - p.166