Youth Camp Mutiny Investigated
By P. Solomon Banda, Associated Press Writer
The Indianapolis Star, July 30, 2001

DENVER -- Colorado corrections officials are investigating a youth camp where campers threatened counselors with rocks and sticks during a weekend outing.

Camp officials said the incident occurred Sunday at a camp 35 miles south of Grand Junction, Colo. Counselors working for Alternative Youth Adventures of Loa, Utah, called sheriff's deputies for help.

"The boys literally talked each other up and it escalated," said Ben Harris, the program's director. "They were saying stuff like, 'We'll bash your head in.'"

The program is designed to rehabilitate youths convicted of nonviolent crimes. Judges send youths to the camps instead of sentencing them to other punishments, like serving time in a juvenile detention center.

The camp tries to teach youths about the consequences of their actions by forcing them to rough it in the woods: If campers refuse to put up tents, for example, they may be left out in the rain.

Youth Adventures has programs in Utah, Montana and South Carolina. It has accepted juveniles from Colorado at its Utah camp for about five years, said Frank Minkner, Western Slope director for the Division of Youth Correction. The company opened a Colorado office in February.

"There is a higher likelihood that something like this will happen with it being new," Minkner said.

Officials will interview campers and review staff training. Harris said counselors undergo intense training and are mentored by experienced staff.

Four counselors were supposed to accompany 10 youths during the 60-day backcountry program. But on Sunday, two weeks into the program, there were 12 counselors for nine youths. Minkner said the number of camp employees suggested the group had already become unruly.

"It's not standard to have that many staff," he said.

The incident started after two juveniles fought and three others began complaining that the program was too hard. Minkner said the youths had sticks and rocks in their hands, and began cursing at counselors and trying to escape. They did not hurt the counselors.

Five youths were taken from the camp by sheriff's deputies, who said four could face charges, although it is unclear what charges could be filed. The fifth camper was expelled from camp.

Minkner said the state will continue sending juveniles to Youth Adventures during the investigation.

"I've been dealing with the delinquent population for 33 years and occasionally this happens," Minkner said. "Sometimes we tend to blame other people for it, but we should look at the juveniles also. It's rare that these kinds of things happen. We want to correct it and we want to move on."

The company is licensed through the Department of Human Services as a child-care provider.

There is no license for youth camps, but the Bonners Ferry, Idaho-based Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council is trying to design accreditation standards for the more than 100 companies that serve about 10,000 teen-agers nationwide. About two dozen companies work with states to provide alternatives to detention centers.

At a wilderness camp in Arizona last month, a 14-year-old boy died from drowning after being left in a bathtub. Preliminary autopsy reports show the boy had been hallucinating while being forced to stand in the desert sun as punishment for wanting to go home.

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