For more than 100 years, institutions have been popping up in America promising to put troubled teens back on the right track. But all too often these teens end up being subjected to what can only be described as torture in these institutions. Mike Papantonio is joined by mass torts attorney Caleb Cunningham from the Levin Papantonio Rafferty law firm to talk about what’s happening.

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*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio: For more than a hundred years, institutions have been popping up in America promising to put troubled teens in the right track. But all too soon these teens end up being subjected to what can only be described as torture in these institutions. Joining me to talk about that and what’s happening is Caleb Cunningham. Caleb, let me ask you right off the bat, people don’t even know about this. They hear well, so-and-so was sent to a reformatory of some kind. They have all kinds of words for it. Why don’t you lay this story out for me a little bit.

Caleb Cunningham: So essentially this stuff has existed for more than a hundred years. I know you did a great show on the Dozier school, and that’s not a one-off. You know, you’ve got 80 dead children in unmarked graves, in Dozier here in Florida and that’s happening around the country. These children are being subjected to unimaginable cruelty under the guise of wilderness therapy, of conversion camps, of reformatory schools. They’ve got a lot of different names, but what they’re selling is this miraculous snake oil. That something is wrong with your child and we can fix ’em.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah.

Caleb Cunningham: We can fix ’em.

Mike Papantonio: Send them away and just give complete control to us and we’re gonna fix ’em. Just like you mentioned Dozier, there’s graves everywhere where we don’t even know where the children are buried.

Caleb Cunningham: Right.

Mike Papantonio: Where they were beat, they were raped, they were murdered and they were put in graves in that Dozier area. Right there in Marianna, Florida. But people don’t understand, this is an industry. Okay.

Caleb Cunningham: Oh yeah.

Mike Papantonio: This is not just one off. This is an industry. Talk about the industry of this whole idea of, you know, troubled exploited teen industry.

Caleb Cunningham: And it’s big money in it. You know, there’s about $23 billion of public funds going to this because it’s not just parents who are being lied to. It’s juvenile judges, psychiatric professionals, things like that, that are being lied to by these people. And it’s big business. It’s for-profit companies running private prisons for children. These, these hell holes. Again, I apologize for the foul language, but that’s what these are.

Mike Papantonio: Mm-hmm.

Caleb Cunningham: These are terrors that we are allowing to happen in this country and they’re profiting off of it.

Mike Papantonio: Well, okay, let’s back up on the idea. It started out where, you know, maybe a Catholic church would say, we have a place you can send a troubled teen. We’re gonna work with them. That was a disaster. More abuse cases. The Mormon church did the same thing. Anytime you see that lining up, it’s usually bad. Has a bad ending to it. But this is even worse because you’ve got Wall Street.

Caleb Cunningham: Right.

Mike Papantonio: Wall Street saying, hey, we can make a lot of money with these troubled kids. It doesn’t make any difference what we do to ’em because nobody ever finds out. Basically, they’ve gotten away with a lot for a long time, haven’t they?

Caleb Cunningham: They absolutely have. And what, and like we saw with the abuses with the Catholic church or the Boy Scouts of America, these kids, they have a built-in excuse and say, oh, they’re troubled. Oh, you can’t believe what they say. And so when the abusers get caught, they blame, they blame the victim as we see time and time again. And it’s the same abuses, but it’s systematic and it’s disgusting because you have a culmination of no regulation or little regulation, money and children. So predators are attracted to this. Negligent people are attracted to this. And like you said, Wall Street money is backing a lot of this because they see big money.

Mike Papantonio: And that’s important because regulators are nullified. There’s no, the regulators, if you just look at Dozier, there were no regulators. If you look at this, the school up in Philadelphia where the judges were getting paid, they were getting kickbacks to send these kids to this, to this reform school. They called it, I don’t know what they referred to it, but it was reform school. So they caught these two judges, they, both of ’em in prison right now. But that kind of stuff goes on all over this country. And the problem is the media pays little attention to it until something terrible happens. But tell us how, tell us about the corporate, give us the name of the corporations. What are the corporations that are involved in this?

Caleb Cunningham: So I wanna talk about one specifically. They used to be called Sequel. Then they change their name to Vivant. And now they call themselves Brighter Path. Right.

Mike Papantonio: Why do they keep changing their name?

Caleb Cunningham: Because they keep getting in trouble.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah.

Caleb Cunningham: We keep finding out about it. News reporters put it, bring it to the public’s attention. And so they change their name and there’s no regulation to stop ’em from doing this. So they rebrand. They rebrand and they’re really good at that. One of their most recent and most egregious offenses, to your point, was a 16 year old kid in Michigan named Cornelius Frederick. He threw a sandwich in the lunchroom. Seven adults crushed him to death for throwing that sandwich. He laid on the floor for 12 minutes, his dead body, while the nurse looked at him before they called for emergency personnel.

Mike Papantonio: Mm-hmm.

Caleb Cunningham: He died. They crushed that child to death for throwing a sandwich.

Mike Papantonio: Okay. That’s one example. But we’re hearing, we’re handling these cases all over, you’re handling, you’re handling these cases all over the country. And the stories that we’re hearing are the same stories. It’s usually the same offender because the hiring practices of these places, you know, they put a mirror under their nose if there’s condensation, yeah, you got the job. The psychiatrist and the psychologists that are keeping ’em there, they’re a target. I just want to, you know, public to know. That’s a target for us. We’re going after these schools and I’m wondering what can people do? What if you’re in a community, you’ve heard rumors, what should people be doing about all this right now?

Caleb Cunningham: Well, the old adage is true, if you see something, say something. Don’t let your loved ones get tricked into this because there is an entire marketing program designed to lie to you, to cheat you. They give other parents discounts on tuition if they write these fake referrals and testimonials. And Congress has known about that. They did a report in 2008 about these kids that have been dying, the kids that have been hurt, the kids that have been sexually assaulted and they didn’t do anything.

Mike Papantonio: Mm-hmm.

Caleb Cunningham: The only thing that has changed since 2008 is they’re more profitable than ever. They’re more profitable than ever.

Mike Papantonio: Well, isn’t it, it’s the equivalent of the private prison system.

Caleb Cunningham: Exactly.

Mike Papantonio: This is a knockoff on that. Only we’re gonna imprison kids and we have a better chance at abusing them because what they do, and here’s what everybody’s missing. If you’re a family member and this has happened to you, who’s your target? How about the people who, the people who decided to put him there, the child there. The people who are the psychiatrist or psychologist who’s supposed to be helping them. Instead they’re having a complete opposite effect. We’ve got cases where kids are committing suicide because the harm is so bad and they don’t feel like they can ever get outta the problem. Right?

Caleb Cunningham: Exactly. And this company is bragging about, Sequel in particular in 2017 in public filings, bragged about that they estimated their value at $423 million. They were in 19 states, they had over 9,000 children in that one company’s programs. Because it is a private prison.

Mike Papantonio: Has anybody prosecuted ’em? I mean, have they been criminally prosecuted? Because these stories are story after story and we, we hear it because they’re calling us now. People that, you know, we did a little bit of a story on this and people are calling now and the stories, you know, they’re remarkable. The question is, how did that happen? And the, the answer always is we didn’t know, the parents, we didn’t know. They covered up. The shrink there on campus was telling us that it’s our child’s fault. The law enforcement are saying it’s our child’s, it’s the child’s fault when they turn up beat up or put in solitary confinement. This is a terrible story. I hope you’ll really, really go after these people as hard as you can, Caleb. Okay.

Caleb Cunningham: We’re gonna dedicate all our resources to it. And we’re gonna bring them to justice and hopefully bring some peace to these children and their families.

Mike Papantonio: Yeah. Thanks a lot. Thanks for joining me. Okay.

Caleb Cunningham: Thank you.

Mike Papantonio: That’s all for this week, but all these segments are gonna be available this coming week right here on this channel. And you can follow us on Twitter @AmericasLawyer. I’m Mike Papantonio and this has been America’s Lawyer where we tell you the stories every week that corporate media won’t tell you because their advertisers won’t let ’em tell those stories or their political connections are so tribal that they don’t allow for it. We’ll see you next time.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.