Rep. George Miller of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, wants the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of abuse and other violations by the World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASPS).
Miller filed his investigation request with Attorney General John Ashcroft on Nov. 3. Justice officials replied that a decision would not be issued immediately.
The request came in response to a series of recent New York Times articles alleging abuse at some of the association’s eight boarding and specialty schools, which typically deal with severely misbehaving teens whose parents can’t control them. (Youth Today examined the allegations against the schools in June 1999. See “Kid Help or Kidnapping?” at (www.ytyt.org/infobank/document.cfm/parent/522.)
“There have been serious allegations that hundreds of children have been mistreated or neglected and that their legal rights have been regularly flaunted [sic],” Miller’s letter said. “There are also hundreds of parents who assert that they were drawn into the program by misleading advertising. We believe that the Department of Justice should investigate whether federal laws concerning child abuse and neglect, interstate commerce or unfair or deceptive advertising have been broken by WWASPS or those operating these facilities.”
WWASPS President Ken Kay said he was puzzled by the request for the investigation. “I find it extremely surprising that Congressman Miller would request that kind of action without ever trying to contact me or someone in my organization,” Kay said. He said he had invited Miller to visit a school and attend a parent support group meeting, but that Miller had not responded to the invitation by late November.
“The point is not that I visit the sites,” Miller said in an e-mail reply to Youth Today. “The point is that federal authorities who have jurisdiction over the programs visit the sites. … That is what is needed to protect children.”
“It seems to me like it’s an agenda-driven request,” Kay said. “He’s getting pressure from some people who are trying to rally his support,” perhaps in preparation for a class-action lawsuit.
Juvenile Justice: DNA Samples
Some youth organizations and civil libertarians are concerned about a provision in legislation making its way through Congress that could lead states and the FBI to include DNA samples from juveniles in a national DNA database.
The bill (HR 3214), which would authorize funds for DNA testing, was introduced by Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in an effort to reduce the national backlog of DNA tests from crime scenes and rape kits. Although the bill does not specifically state that the FBI should include DNA samples collected from juveniles, it would allow states to “index the DNA profiles of all persons whose DNA samples have been collected under applicable legal authorities, including those authorized by state law.”
Thirty-two states collect DNA from adjudicated juvenile offenders, primarily those involved in violent offenses, according to ACLU legislative counsel Jesselyn McCurdy.
“We are very, very concerned about the expansion of the DNA database,” McCurdy said. Holding and indexing the juvenile records “undermines the whole concept of rehabilitation.”
The bill would authorize $755 million in state grants over five years to reduce the DNA backlog. The House passed the bill in November by a vote of 357-67.