Jan 24, 2024 - News

Utah's troubled teen industry back in the spotlight

Illustrated collage of people with their heads in their hands, anonymous faces and brain scans.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A recent Netflix documentary is redirecting the spotlight onto Utah's notorious troubled-teen treatment industry, right as new allegations of abuse surface.

Driving the news: Released a few weeks ago, "Hell Camp: Teen Nightmare" chronicles the controversial, Utah-based Challenger Foundation — a wilderness treatment program accused of abusing and neglecting teens in its care in the 1980s.

  • The organization filed for bankruptcy after a teen died during a hike on the Kaiparowits Plateau in 1990, leading to a slew of lawsuits.
  • The Challenger Foundation's founder, Steve Cartisano, went on to found other teen outdoor therapy groups that also faced accusations of abuse.

The big picture: Utah's relatively lax rules for troubled teen programs put it at the center of an industry that's raked in millions of dollars. More teens are sent to programs here than any other state.

Catch up quick: Paris Hilton raised the profile of the issue by testifying in 2021 for state and federal lawmakers about abuse she says she suffered when she was sent to Provo Canyon School at age 17.

The latest: In a lawsuit filed last week, a Washington, D.C. teen alleged he was abused at a Davis County facility that he says detained him at the bidding of his father, whom he also accused of abuse.

  • Also last week, the podcast "Mormon Stories" broadcast an episode in which a woman alleges similar treatment about 20 years ago in a North Salt Lake center.
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