December 7, 2004
by Oliver Duff
of life in Jamaican boot camp: "Kids scream all night. I've been
told if I don't listen I'll be kicked in the head."
shows palm-lined tennis courts, a swimming pool and rooftop views of
the ocean, and promises parents of problem teenagers the solution to
their problems: sending their children to a camp in Jamaica to learn
American-run Tranquility Bay camp on a remote corner of the
Caribbean island faces growing allegations of mistreatment from
former pupils and their families. In the latest case, a London boy,
12, was withdrawn by his parents after just five weeks when he
complained about staff violence. His mother accuses the camp of
is said to have the harshest regime of seven similar camps linked to
an organisation called the World Wide Association of Speciality
Programs, based in St George, in Utah. It sells itself to American,
and some British, parents as a last resort for their troubled
offspring, sent there for anything from sexual assault, gun crime
and drug abuse to having a bad attitude.
For £19,000 a
year, it claims to provide a progressive, tailored education that
will transform troubled teenagers into social and academic
In the past few
years, WWASP-linked camps in Costa Rica, Mexico and the Czech
Republic have closed or been shut down by local authorities after
investigations into claims of physical and emotional mistreatment.
In the US, there have been calls from politicians for tighter
reports of the Jamaica camp regime, up to 250 adolescents are forced
to conform to a rigid system of mental and physical discipline in a
harsh regime of punishment and reward. New arrivals cannot speak
without permission and are stripped of personal possessions. Some
say they were unable to talk to their family for months, even a
year; parents are not allowed to visit and have little or no idea of
camp life. Children self-taught from text books, with little direct
sometimes forced, occasionally through adults kneeling on top of
them, to lay on the floor for days. This is "observational
placement", where children are forbidden to move by guards except
for 10 minutes every hour, has been condemned by the United Nations
Children's Fund (Unicef).
boy's parents became desperate for help with their son's behaviour,
which included drug abuse, carrying a knife, theft, muggings and
violent threats to his family. The boy also suffers from Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but his medication was not working,
said his mother. They saw a television programme about American
camps for troubled teenagers and found WWASP on the internet. "They
seemed to be credible, meticulous and understand the problems," she
said. Three weeks later the couple enrolled their son while on a
"holiday" to Jamaica in August, but, on return to Britain, became
After four weeks
her son sent a letter. "It said: 'I hate you. I've been in OP for 3
days, someone has been sitting on my back. You said adults weren't
supposed to abuse children but they are ... Kids scream all night.
I've been told if I don't listen I'll be kicked in the head.'
"The way they
had sold OP to us was a room for kids to chill out and reflect. They
didn't explain it was laying on the floor for days." The parents
withdrew their son two days later.
The claims are
supported by accounts given in a BBC2 documentary, Locked in
Paradise, which is being screened tonight.
Ken Kay, the
president of WWASP, told the Independent that the camps were all
independently run but used its systems and practices. He said: "Our
regimes are not harsh, they are structured and designed to cope with
teenagers who are threatening their own lives ... If there was any
abuse, people would know about it."
is run by his son, Jay Kay. He was not available for comment