The Dangerous State Of Treatment And Housing For Arizona's Terrifying Juvenile Sex Offenders.
By J.E. Relly
THE ONLY ENTRY was a locked metal door, and the staff inside The Pines at Tucson treatment center didn't immediately hear Pima County Sheriff's Department deputies pounding. The 911 call was the second that July 9 night. The earlier attempt was canceled by The Pines' management insisting they could reign in the 32 rioting male teens.
A light film of dust clouded the halls inside The Pines as deputies milled past ravaged ceiling tile, hunks of dry wall and shredded paper. It was nearly the 100th call dispatched to The Pines by the Sheriff's Department in a year and a half.
Deputies reported traumatized young staffers inside The Pines wearing clothes indistinguishable from the young sex offenders who were wandering loose inside the treatment center halls. As if enacting an absurdist's drama, the panicked staff of six feigned authority, attempting to coax the youths back into their dorm rooms, but the behavior-consequence system had not worked for two days.
The wings of the sex offender units had been on close-down for 48 hours, and the youths, ranging from 11 to 17 years, were confined in pairs to their capsule-sized rooms with twin beds, a table, small upright closet and bathroom. The teens, agitated by their restriction, were randomly leaving their living quarters and vehemently hurling obscenities and spitting at staff.
Mental health tech Margaret Meyer reported a teen raising his fist to her face and telling her, "I'll take you down bitch, and I'll hurt you." Meyer told deputies it wasn't the first time the staffers feared for their safety. George Johnson Jr. reported it took four employees to restrain a resident swatting wildly with his arms. At one point the teen grabbed Johnson's head and shoved it in a bedroom corner.
The night wore on with the young sex offenders flinging chairs, flipping beds, punching and kicking holes large enough to walk through in the plaster walls. "Almost every wall within my view has been damaged in some way or form," wrote one of the deputies.
A 17-year-old placed by the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections was discovered cowering and unresponsive on the floor. He was taken to nearby Columbia-Northwest Hospital and diagnosed with a "stress-induced episode."
Of the eight residents arrested, only one was from Pima County; the remainder were imported from other counties in the state. One youth was sent in from New Mexico. One teen had been arrested at least three times by the same officer.
As the deputies were leaving with the handcuffed youths, an employee told them of an assaulted resident who was escorted back to his room. "We at first met with resistance when we asked to see the victim and photograph injuries," wrote Sgt. G. Gryczkowski in a Sheriff's Department memorandum.
The memo also states The Pines chief administrator expressed disagreement with "our decision to arrest and transport the residents, stating they were 'problem kids' not 'threatening' and should not be arrested.
"I advised him that we would decide who would and would not be arrested...We were in control and determined who would be arrested, and once our investigation was completed, we would leave."
TOP ADMINISTRATORS FOR The Pines' parent company in Norfolk, Virginia, reacted swiftly to the violence in Tucson. The juvenile sex offender treatment program brought First Hospital Corp. about $1 million a year--a contract that First Hospital couldn't afford to lose.
One day after the riot, probation officers and state and county investigators interviewed children and the administrators. Reports filed by Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Behavioral Health Licensure investigators depicted a company putting itself back together.
An emergency management team flew in from company headquarters to restore order. Broken windows, damaged walls and furniture were replaced. Additional staffers were added for supervision. After residents had been without therapy for nearly a month, treatment groups were formed for processing the incident, records state. The remaining youths were given goals to get off restriction.
A series of "Memoranda For Action" were drafted for The Pines' Tucson management team, with action steps to set up a "Community Advisory Committee" to engage local leaders. Capt. Marty Cramer, of the Pima County Sheriff's Department, should be a member, the memo stated.
In an interview earlier this month, Cramer said she was never contacted by anyone at The Pines before or after they listed her on their action plan. While she thought including community members in an advisory capacity was a good idea, she has the impression The Pines wanted to neutralize her after she spoke with the press about the public safety risk the center presented to the neighboring community on Tucson's northwest side.
Another action step on the memo included getting "to know news reporters; ask one to do a story on a staff or resident success."
What looked good on paper never came to pass. By August 1, less than one month after the riot, the contract for The Pines of Tucson had expired.
When The Pines applied for a zoning permit for a new location, Pima County Zoning Enforcement denied the request, says Tina Whittemore, deputy chief zoning inspector. The department learned through the riot accounts in the dailies that The Pines, at 1920 W. Rudasill Road, was housing more than 10 adjudicated juvenile sex offenders, which would have required two public hearings. But in The Pines' initial application, they had applied for a certificate of occupancy for "sexually abused children," which was approved without neighborhood notification.
As choices for a juvenile facility dried up, Pines administrators planned on regrouping at The Pines in Portsmouth and then moving back to Arizona once a building was negotiated and conditions stabilized.
At the time, The Pines in Tucson was the only private residential treatment center in the state dealing exclusively with juvenile sex offenders. While the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections offers the comparable Journey Program to the same clientele, all 24 beds were full and there was a long waiting list. The Pima County Juvenile Detention Center was severely overcrowded.
Although officials with the Arizona Supreme Court were not satisfied with The Pines, they had few choices for relocating the youthful sex offenders to a locked program. "We are going to be faced with some difficult decisions in short order," wrote program specialist Kit Komarec. "From a corporate standpoint, they have not supported the program, and I have doubts that they will if we get strict."
Similarly, officials with Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections were rattled by the events. "I was very shocked to see this information," wrote Diann H. Patterson, contract-purchasing manager, on July 19. "I was unaware that there were any problems associated with this contractor... . I would like to point out that this contractor is a subsidiary of the First Hospital Corporation, Alternative Behavioral Services, which is also the parent company of First Corrections Corp., the organization that we contract with for our Residential Boot Camp."
The lone youth placed at The Pines by the state Department of Juvenile Corrections was promptly removed and sent to another program in the Phoenix area.
The Pines agreed to charter a plane and pay for a flight to the company's sprawling 32-acre Brighton campus at the former Frederick Military Academy in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Contrasting the cramped and poorly laid-out Tucson quarters, the Brighton property is likened to a small college campus with dormitories, tennis courts, basketball hoops, gardening programs, a gym and pool. With stringent conditions spelled out in an amendment to Arizona Supreme Court's contract, the first batch of 10 clients, representing more than $750,000 in annual revenue, flew out with an escort team.
Video links were set up in Tucson and Phoenix for family therapy conference calls. Probation officers were flown monthly gratis for three days of monitoring. The Pines would pick up the tab for each client's family visits. It's not clear how many parents flew out to their children in Virginia and took advantage of the two-night, three-day stipend.
Sources say Arizona officials used their best judgment in sending the youthful sex offenders to the Virginia program, which, when it opened in 1986, was one of only three such centers in the country. The founder of The Pines Behavioral Studies Program, Dr. John Hunter, has developed a national reputation for treating sex offenders between the ages of 10 and 21. Hunter's research from his 10-year-old Virginia center indicated successful completion of his program reduced the recividism rate for youth sex offenders from 40 to 13 percent.
Even The Pines of Tucson laid claim to 23 residents successfully completing their program. In a February 1996 letter to Arizona Behavioral Health Licensure, Pines Administrator Julie Gasaway wrote, "To our knowledge, none of them have sexually reoffended."
RESIDENTIAL TREATMENT centers are often the last hope for young sex offenders who otherwise may spend less intense therapy time while in juvenile detention or prison.
"We formally believe the best chance of treating a sex offender is when they are juveniles, says Terry Burke, placement coordinator for Pima County Juvenile Court Center. "There is little to no hope of treating them as adults."
Probation officers and other specialists with Pima County Juvenile Court Center's sex offender team say their caseload of 100 youths is diverse: It may be the charming boy next door, the kid on honor roll or the one with a learning disability.
Since the youths learn to hide their sexually deviant behavior, they tend to be loners. They're rarely caught the first time. "They are often manipulative and used to lying," says Michael Jennings, a probation officer with the county court juvenile sex offender unit.
According to research, youthful sex offenders frequently have suffered physical and sexual abuse themselves, and perpetrate sex crimes on younger victims as a reaction to the horror, confusion or anger of their own abuse. A small number of offenders were never sexually abused and simply grew up in a highly sexualized environment, where exposure to hardcore porn was quotidian.
It was this clientele which Hunter and his administrative staff took on in Tucson, in January 1994. Hunter started treatment programs in Virginia and Arizona, but was never at the Tucson site long enough to provide the leadership and stability which the program needed, according to an Administrative Office of the Courts internal report on The Pines riot.
Interviews with former Pines staffers indicate many residents exhibited no outwardly distorted behaviors, while others were disruptive and at times violent. One of The Pines' 17-year-old patients reportedly had molested 65 victims since he began at age nine; his idol was serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who admitted to having sex with corpses and cooking body parts and eating them. Other kids had histories of ritual abuse. One resident's father and companion performed Satanic worship and began anally penetrating the youth at age 10.
Former Pines staffers say they found and confiscated from the teens' rooms cut-outs of naked children from National Geographic, sheaths handmade from rulers to fend off would-be predators, along with wooden table legs sharpened from sidewalk rubbing.
Holes were kicked in walls every week, says a former mental health tech requesting anonymity. Even though beds were checked every 15 minutes during the night and doors always remained open, residents had occasional sexual encounters with each other, according to Sheriff's Department reports. When discovered, the youths often said they were molested. In the end, there was almost always a recanting of the sexual assault claims.
According to Sheriff's Department interviews, Pines administration and therapists immediately notified law enforcement officials of disclosed sexual behavior and appeared to take the incidents seriously. Experts agree that acting out in a sexual manner is common among youths, even those who are not sexually predatory in nature. As for completely preventing sexual promiscuity, authorities say, each kid would have to be watched around the clock.
Sources say one of the largest problems at The Pines was the short-term commitment of the clinical team sent from Virginia and the frequent turnover of low-wage, unbenefited positions. Two administrators were fired as a result of problematic operations. Former Pines staffers say lack of leadership and the changing rules from one shift to the next made the situation seem unsafe and, at times, as one former mental health tech put it, "as if the kids were running the place."
Pines residents spent their days in therapy learning about their own abuse and crimes. Probation officers say residential treatment bombards sex offenders with their issues in individual, group and family therapy. One goal in the end is to develop victim empathy.
Between therapy sessions at The Pines, staffers say little stimulating recreation was provided. The logistics of keeping track of youthful sex offenders in public made it difficult for the small staff to take the teens on frequent outings.
A rarely used volleyball net stood lonely in the dirt and weeds. Staffers were told no funds were available for a gardening project. The pool was at times unfit for use, and the walled-in recreational patio area was shared by a hospice program. Yelling and vigorous activity was discouraged, since it would disturb the dying patients.
Reports filed by Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Department of Health Services indicate The Pines' ratio of staff to residents was consistent with state guidelines (1:4 by day and 1:8 by night). Former Pines employees say the numbers were often lower.
Even when fully staffed, former employees say, The Pines' practice of discouraging 911 calls would sometimes encumber one staffer with an unruly patient for an entire shift, leaving as few as two mental health techs to manage as many as 30 kids.
Bruce Cole, a former Pines mental health tech who worked in several programs for troubled adolescents, remembers a night in March 1995 when he was jumped by a resident from the unit which housed kids as young as 11 years old. As Cole tried calming the youth, the boys on the unit began yelling "He's killing him, he's killing him!" into the hallway from the open doors of their rooms.
"This kid took every bit of control I could muster to keep him down," says Cole, a formidable man. "I was afraid the other kids would attack me.
"We went down to the floor, according to the take-down training, me on top of him. The other five or six younger boys were freaking out wanting to protect one of their own."
With nothing but a hallway of distance between himself and the unit housing older youths weighing as much as 200 pounds, Cole hoped the lone female mental health tech could keep them contained.
That evening, Cole tried convincing his two work associates to call 911, but they wouldn't, citing the company practice of handling issues internally.
Cole says during the next weeks there were many fights, outbursts, "take downs," and maneuvers to place the youths in isolation units. Two or three months later, a 190-or-so-pound kid known for intimidating residents and staff, voluntarily walked into the isolation room as directed. The youth was known for frequently charging people with his arms extended, then stopping abruptly and laughing deliriously.
"We tried different things (to calm) him," says Cole, "He wasn't an easy kid to take down. He wasn't capable of stopping. He'd been beaten silly (by his family) for a long time."
But the youth didn't stay in isolation long; he came out kicking doors. "There was a clock on the wall in the hallway," says Cole. "It had been there a long time. He pulled it off the wall, walked around with it for a while, and then broke it over his head."
Again, the staff wouldn't call 911. Instead, they tried calling the administrator.
Cole says when they finally contacted the administrator, he offered to come in and talk with the kid, who had cut his scalp and palm with the glass and was threatening to cut his wrists. "Three of us had to go after him. We had him cornered. That's when he hit me in the face," says Cole.
Another mental health tech who worked at The Pines up until its closing said, "I used to drive to the place really anxious, wondering how many kids am I going to have to take down?"
Several weeks before the riot, four teens, ranging in age from 14 to 17, alleged that a 21-year-old female on staff, who had just left for the East Coast, had fondled and performed oral sex on them. It was the third child molestation charge lodged against Pines staff; the other two charges had been dropped. A Pines therapist contacted the Sheriff's Department. Clinical and administrative staff flew out immediately from Virginia.
After an intense investigation, the boys recanted. In an interview with officials, one youth stated he despised the former female worker and thought she was too young to work at The Pines. He told counselors it wasn't right for her to talk to him about his past.
Another youth admitted the story was a lie construed to close down The Pines so that his friend from Phoenix could move back near his parents.
LAST MONTH, JON Frank, a reporter with The Virginia Pilot, contacted Arizona Supreme Court officials for comments on their reaction to numerous incidents reported at The Pines in Virginia.
While probation officers were flying monthly to the Virginia site to monitor their clients, and although the Arizona Supreme Court's Administrative Office personnel flew out quarterly, they were unaware of any problems experienced by The Pines before the reporter called, said Donna Noriega, program manager with Arizona Supreme Court Juvenile Services.
According to Portsmouth police records obtained by The Virginia Pilot, between January 1, 1991, and September 25, 1996, there were 520 calls to police by The Pines for larceny, escape, bomb threats and sexual assault. In 1995, records indicate juveniles escaped at the rate of nearly one every five days.
At the Brighton Campus, where the Arizona kids are staying, between January 1, 1994, and October 31, 1996, there were 73 fire calls.
Around the time a glowing article ran in the October issue of Good Housekeeping magazine on the superb treatment at The Pines' Brighton campus, two serious incidents were taking place at other Pines' campuses In Virginia. On October 1, a former counselor walked onto one of the campuses, took two hostages and shot himself the next day. Just hours after this drama, two girls ran away and reportedly were sexually assaulted.
Two days later, three Pines' runaways allegedly abducted a 55-year-old man. Pretending to have a gun, they took his wallet and keys and later pushed him out of his own car speeding along the highway.
State officials have been told by Pines officials in Virginia that the majority of violent incidents took place at campuses other than where Arizona's juveniles were housed.
SEVERAL YEARS AGO the state dealt with potentially graver problems related to juvenile sex offender residential treatment. In August 1992, controversy forced Phoenix Memorial Hospital to close its program after five years of tax dollars streaming toward controversial treatments for sex offenders under age 14. The therapies included testing penile response to sexually explicit photos using a plethysmograph and ammonia therapy for both boys and girls. Children were required to listen to tape recordings of their deviant sexual fantasies three times daily, inhaling ammonia ampules to stop arousal.
Following an investigation, a state-appointed sex offender protocol committee set standards forbidding use of the plethysmograph on teens younger than age 16. While other olfactory treatments are used for sex offenders, ammonia therapy still is not an accepted treatment in the state.
After the controversy surrounding Phoenix Memorial, the Arizona Supreme Court commissioned an assessment of juvenile sex offender programs around the state by Dr. Judith Becker, an internationally recognized expert on juvenile sex offender treatment at the University of Arizona.
By November 1992, state officials had removed the youths at Victory House after Becker's 132-page report cited numerous problems with the residential sex offender unit. The report outlined Becker's concern with the Mesa program's extensive use of psychotropic drugs, unqualified therapists and inappropriate treatment. The sex offender protocol committee stepped in, requiring 1,500 hours of experience with the population before performing therapy.
Of particular concern to Becker was the "shame therapy" in which Victory House therapists re-traumatized the youths, deliberately embarrassing and humiliating them.
The report stated Victory House did not have problems obtaining state money, even though they hadn't produced evidence their treatment was effective.
IN THE NEXT week, the Arizona Supreme Court will decide on a company to operate a state-contracted residential treatment program for juvenile sex offenders.
The new contractor will be offered space on Arizona State Hospital property in Phoenix, but can opt out of the fair-market offer and locate anywhere in the state. Security is high on the hospital grounds, since the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections' Encanto Unit is housed there.
Half of the cost of these residential treatment centers is in the building, says Terry Burke. "This new offer by the state is practically giving the facility for free."
The Pines Norfolk-parent company, First Hospital Corp., is bidding along with eight other companies, including Tucson-based Desert Hills Center for Youth and Families and Intermountain Centers for Human Development. Both companies are in good standing with Arizona Behavioral Health Licensure, but do not run programs of The Pines' magnitude.
Bids for treating one child for one day ranged from $210 to $350, Burke said in a February interview. Since the bids are coming in high, the state will only be able to commit on about 24 beds--much less than the 40 initially planned. In the last year, Arizona Supreme Court Juvenile Justices Services spent more than $1.9 million on residential treatment for less than one-fourth of the state's youthful sex offenders.
Why doesn't the state run its own residential treatment programs, when one year in a center like The Pines costs roughly $76,650 per child, while the comparable, but fenced, Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections Journey Program costs $56,000?
"The state needs a range of services to offer these kids," says Kit Komarec, program specialist with the Arizona Supreme Court. "Some (kids) would benefit from the Journey Program, others from residential treatment, others are fine with specialized groups or foster homes coupled with outpatient therapy."
It's cheaper for the state to use private companies when employing state-of-the-art treatment in so many specialty areas, officials say. As in other states, Arizona courts have largely gone toward private treatment contracts. Frequently in state-run programs, it's difficult to attract the best therapists unless they're on contract, Komarec says. It's also nearly impossible to dump a program that isn't working when you have employees on the state payroll.
Arizona Supreme Court Juvenile Justice Services holds some 500 contracts, Noriega says. Of the 20,000 kids in treatment, about 455 are juvenile sex offenders. State officials warn the figures for sex offenders are low, considering youths generally are not caught in their first illegal sex act. In Pima County alone, some 25 new cases are investigated each month by the county's Administration for Youth and Families.
The bare-bones staff assigned to monitoring these contracts allows for a mere annual visit to each company. When complaints similar to ones for The Pines surface, the state sends out an investigator.
Arizona Department of Health Services has a similar schedule for re-issuing licenses annually. While the Pima County Sheriff's Department made dozens of calls to The Pines, state rules did not require The Pines to report many of those incidents, says Cindy Beckham, team leader with Arizona Behavioral Health Licensure.
The guidelines for state providers require companies such as The Pines to report runaways or incidents where injuries require medical attention, but a riot would not need to be reported unless the building became unusable or an injured person was sent to a hospital.
The onus is on the contracting agency to police its programs, says Komarec, while the state's responsibility is administering the contract. And that lack of initiative for tracking problematic operations was an issue for The Pines, according to an internal report filed in the Administrative Office of the Supreme Court's Juvenile Services Division.
The Pines entered foreign terrain when stepping into Arizona's political landscape for juvenile sex offenders. While other states oversee juvenile services until youths are as old as 25, Arizona courts generally only allow nine to 12 months of residential treatment for juvenile sex offenders. In Virginia, kids remain in treatment for three and four years, says Terry Burke, with Pima County Juvenile Court Center.
"When a kid was placed at The Pines in Virginia, it was almost an understanding once the kid was making progress, they were going to stay until everyone was comfortable with their risk level," Burke says. "In Arizona, we have pressures of money, the lack of space. We have to move one child out, so another can move in."
Sources say the necessity of having to fill 32 beds--that all vacate nearly annually--with some of the state's most troubled youths, largely contributed to the insecurity at The Pines.
DURING THE SUNNY weeks of February, anyone with a juvenile courts or corrections leaning in his job description sat nervously with a copy of Senate Bill 1446 on his desk. The bill would be the road map for the voter-approved "Get Tough on Juvenile Crime" bill.
Juveniles 15 and older committing rape or forcible assault are named prominently in offenses automatically transferred to adult court. Prosecutors also have the discretion to recommend transferring 14-year-old sex offenders to adult court.
Since state law prohibits commingling adults felons with kids, Arizona Department of Corrections has separate units on the prison grounds set aside for youths. The state does not offer 15-minute bed checks or treatment for juvenile sex offenders. While the cost of warehousing a teen sex offender at the state Department of Corrections is estimated to be less than one-quarter of an annual stay at a treatment center like The Pines, state and county officials fear the youths will miss an opportunity for rehabilitation.
"My understanding of adult corrections is they don't have the money, resources or staff to increase their treatment programs," says Terry Burke. "They'd have to create special treatment programs for juveniles. I don't see that's going to happen."
State Sen. John Kaites, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says with an adult conviction a youthful sex offender may still be able to access juvenile services, which might include treatment. Whether youths prosecuted as adults may access residential treatment is doubtful.
"These kids are going to prison, not having an opportunity for treatment, says Burke, who pioneered the Pima County Juvenile Court sex offender unit. "They'll serve their time and be released. Then we'll have untreated sex offenders out on the street."
While the Department of Public Safety stores DNA from youthful sex offenders, and probation officers follow some sex offenders for years, there are no laws requiring neighborhoods to be notified when a youthful sex offender moves nearby.
Probation officer Michelle Cole, with the Pima County Juvenile Court's sex offender unit, says youth sex crimes are just as heinous as those committed by adults. Whether a youth serves time in a foster home, a residential treatment center, or remains in the neighborhood, Cole says the community should be notified.
Capt. Martha Cramer, with Pima County Sheriff's Department, says, "There ought to be some mechanism for the neighborhood to know what type of facility is moving in. The neighborhood has the right to know in order to take appropriate precautions.
"In this case (The Pines) had runaways they did report to us fairly often," says Cramer, who adds La Cima Middle School was within one mile of the treatment center. "Who knows how many runaways they had that they didn't report to us."
Illustrations by Betina Mills
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