Provo Canyon School Reviews on Abuse, Trauma And Survivors
The Provo Canyon School recently received national attention over allegations of abuse from former students at the residential youth treatment center. In response, Republican Spanish Fork Sen. Mike McKell is sponsoring a bill that would increase transparency and oversight at residential facilities throughout the state.
Read more for the latest information on Provo Canyon School for Behavioral Health Centre.
Provo Canyon School (PCS) is a psychiatric youth residential treatment center owned and operated by Universal Health Services (UHS). The school uses an “Acuity Based Care” (ABC) model that identifies and re-assesses the strengths and needs of its students.
Students receive a wide range of interventions including recreational and occupational therapies; individual, group, and art therapies; and substance abuse therapy. Charter Behavioral Health Systems owned and operated PCS until it sold to UHS in 2000.
PCS offers year-round academics to all of its students. The school offers a variety of educational programs to the students including career counseling, competitive sports, special education, and more. PCS is fully accredited by the Northwest Accreditation Commission.
Accusations Of Abuse
Since its inception, the school has been subject to a large number of individual and class-action lawsuits, particularly throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These lawsuits ranged from verbal, physical, and s-exual abuse and medical negligence, to violating students’ First Amendment rights and invasion of privacy, to false imprisonment and battery, to intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, and loss of parental consortium.
In September 2020, Paris Hilton premiered her YouTube Originals documentary This Is Paris, in which she attributes her chronic insomnia to the PTSD she developed when she spent eleven months at PCS in the late 1990s.
She claims that she and other students were physically and psychologically abused. Some of the instances she details include how she and the other students were allegedly drugged with unknown medications, how she was allegedly restrained and forcibly transported to the school, and how she was stripped searched, and placed in a seclusion room for nearly twenty-four hours. She claims PCS as “the worst of the worst” of all troubled youth facilities.
Drugging a 14-year-old girl 17 times in three months
The Provo Canyon School in Utah reportedly used a substance called ‘booty juice’ to sedate teenagers and in one case drugged a 14-year-old girl 17 times in three months.
According to the documents shared by Oregon Sen Sara Gelser and obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, the 14-year-old girl was sent to the facility in 2019 by social workers from Oregon’s foster care system.
Over the three months she was there, the teenager – who has a developmental and intellectual disability – was allegedly pinned down nearly 30 times by employees who in some cases used restraints. The teenager reported that she was beaten up at least four times by other students, with one punching her in the face while she was sleeping.
She was also allegedly injected with sedatives 17 times. That sounded the alarm with child welfare officials in Oregon who flew to Utah to bring the teen back to Oregon.
Aaron Ross, 33, claimed he was forced to give a staff member oral s-ex when he was 13, was heavily drugged, denied food, and locked in a 6ft-square cement ‘isolation room’ for days on end at Provo Canyon School, south of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ross, 33, says he was 13 when he was sent by his parents to the Orem campus of Provo Canyon School for two years in 2001. It was an abusive locked-down facility where children are routinely thrown in solitary confinement, deliberately over-medicated, physically beaten, and in many cases s-exually assaulted.
But people who were residents at Provo Canyon School in recent years have made similar accusations. There is a pattern of controversy and allegations of abuse that stretches from the 1980s to today at one of Utah’s largest youth residential treatment centers.
Eight former students whose stays spanned decades told The Salt Lake Tribune about their experiences at three of the four campuses that have operated as Provo Canyon School.
They spoke of repeated physical restraints, with up to 10 staffers piling on young children. Some were chemically sedated, or so overmedicated they felt like a zombie. Others spoke of being left in isolation rooms for days after getting in trouble for things like not getting out of bed or asking for an inhaler.
Provo Canyon School has remained operational for nearly 50 years — despite multiple lawsuits, a company bankruptcy, state threats to pull its license, and public accounts of abuse from young people who were sent there.
Abuse and Drugging Allegations
Provo Canyon School opened its first facility for boys in 1971 and got into legal trouble just a few years later. Two teens sent there by their home state’s juvenile justice system ran away — one was from Alaska, the other from Nevada — and sought protection from the federal courts.
They filed a lawsuit against the original owners, Jack Williams and Robert Crist, challenging the school’s education, treatment, and confinement methods.
Jurors returned a verdict favoring Provo Canyon School after a lengthy trial in 1980, but a federal judge issued a permanent injunction banning the school from using polygraph tests on the boys, opening and reading their mail, using isolation for any reason other than to contain a boy who was violent, and prohibited physical force from being used to restrain a boy unless he was an immediate danger to himself or others.
A few years later, in 1986, Charter Behavioral Health Systems bought the original Provo campus. The company, once the nation’s largest operator of psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers, would own the school for the next 14 years.
It was during this time, in 1989, that Jeremy Whiteley was enrolled. He was 15 at the time, a self-described “normal teenager” from Washington who was “going through a rebellious cycle.” His parents and therapist asked if he’d like to try a boarding school, a place in Utah where he could hike and ski and be outdoors.
Continued Allegations of Abuse
The allegations of abuse and mistreatment haven’t stopped in the two decades that UHS has owned Provo Canyon School.
Six women who went there between 2003 and 2017 told The Tribune similar stories of being overmedicated, restrained, and punished for minor infractions while at the girls’ campuses in Springville and Orem.
Kayla Smith was 8 years old when her parents, in coordination with her California school district, sent her to Utah in 2010.
Smith said she was frequently given shots that made her go to sleep, something that happened if she cried while staff members held her down. “It’s traumatizing,” she recalled of the restraints. “It’s very scary. Mostly, it just scares you more. You’re already upset. The environment is just making it worse for you.”
Staffers are allowed to physically restrain students at youth treatment facilities in Utah, but the state has rules. Staffers are not to use force as a punishment, only putting their hands on a young person if he or she “presents an imminent danger to self or others.” The rules are similar for chemical restraints.
But Kyra Lewis, who came to Provo Canyon School from Alaska in 2003, said physical restraints “happened all the time” when she was there. Injections also were common and had been nicknamed “booty juice.”
Breaking Their Silence
For some former residents, seeing a celebrity like Hilton speaking out has motivated them to also share their stories.
Jen Robison, who went to Provo Canyon School in 2003, helped start a growing movement four years ago called Breaking Code Silence, an online platform where people talk about what they endured at facilities across the country.
Their goal, Robison said, is to bring more awareness to the massive industry in Utah — where nearly 100 facilities operate — and elsewhere.
In October, Hilton and others protested for the school to be shut down. She and others at the protest vowed to push forward until all schools that mistreat youth are shut down.
‘There are thousands of these schools all around. Provo Canyon is just the first one that I want to go down,’ Hilton said at the time. ‘From there, it will be a domino effect.’
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