Boot Camp Death Prompts Changes
New York Times, the Associated Press, December 10, 2000
See Forced Exercise as Punishment

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) -- On a muggy July morning, 14-year-old Gina Score collapsed during a forced run at South Dakota's boot camp for girls.

She lay on the ground for three hours before dying of heatstroke.

In the 16 months since Score's death raised questions about juvenile boot camps across the country, the girls' boot camp at Plankinton has been dismantled. The legislature has set up an office to monitor juvenile corrections, and lawmakers have given a legislative panel authority to periodically review juvenile programs.

But some say state boot camps remain deeply flawed. On Monday, a federal judge was scheduled to hold a hearing on a proposed settlement of a lawsuit between the State Training School where Score collapsed and the Washington, D.C.-based Youth Law Center, which seeks to monitor the boys' boot camp in Plankinton, an eastern South Dakota farm town.

``I think in the long run kids in these facilities will be protected, they'll be safer and hopefully will come out better in the sense of not being abused while there,'' said Youth Law Center staff attorney Marc Schindler.

Score's parents have also filed a lawsuit, set to go to trial early next year. Lawsuit documents quote state Attorney General Mark Barnett as saying the state was responsible for the girl's death because of the way the boot camp staff treated her.

``We killed her,'' he said.

Gov. Bill Janklow, who credits three years in the U.S. Marines with turning his life around, called five years ago for boot camps as a way to teach teen-age offenders the discipline and other skills needed to set them straight.

The Republican governor has blamed ``rogue employees'' for Score's death and other problems.

But Democratic House Minority Leader Pat Haley said the problem is widespread.

``What was put together here was a routinely abusive system,'' said Haley, a former prison guard. ``It wasn't rogue employees. It was the system.''

Score was sent to the camp in July 1999 after stealing a bike, skipping school and shoplifting. Two days into the program, the 5-foot-4, 226-pound girl joined other girls on a 2.7-mile required run.

She collapsed near the end, and staff members left her on the ground because they thought she was faking. A nurse at the scene later said she didn't recognize the girl's symptoms as heat exhaustion.

Investigators said the temperature had reached 77 degrees in 81 percent humidity by the time an ambulance was called. Score's temperature reached at least 108 degrees, the maximum a thermometer could record.

Two staff members were acquitted on child abuse charges in the death and other problems, including making girls run in shackles until their ankles bled.

Today, South Dakota judges send fewer juveniles to state facilities, partly because of what some judges described as caution after Score's death.

A report this year by the Koch Crime Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Topeka, Kan., found about 50 boot camps across the nation, not counting those run by the National Guard. That's down from 60 several years ago, says Jerry Wells, the institute's director.

Boot camps' physical exercise requirements and sometimes untrained staff can be dangerous, says Doris MacKenzie, professor of criminology at the University of Maryland. On the other hand, studies indicate both staff and juveniles in boot camps have more positive attitudes than those in traditional juvenile corrections programs, she said.

``The attitudes in many of the camps are very supportive,'' she said. ``There seems to be a very caring relationship.''

But she said studies show boot camps are no better than traditional programs in preventing juveniles from getting into trouble after release.

Wells said tragedies such as Score's death should be expected when boot camps are run by untrained staffs.

``The surprise to me was that it was a surprise, because it was a recipe for disaster,'' he said.

The proposed settlement in the Youth Law Center lawsuit would limit the use of restraints and isolation cells and require mental health treatment, education programs and staff training in addition to monitoring.

Janklow says he continues to get letters from parents who say their children's lives have been set straight by boot camps. He won't comment on the lawsuits until they are settled.

Gina Score's parents, David and Viola, have refused to talk publicly in recent months, but said a year ago that they were devastated.

``The state should never abuse a child,'' Viola Score said.

See Investigative Report Summary - Gina Score
See section Forced Exercise as Punishment
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