Infection Kills Youth, Closes Program

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Several youths have died at wilderness and boot camps in recent years because of alleged abuse, but a Colorado program was shut down last month for a different reason – a death caused by a bacterial infection.

Caleb Jensen, 15, died in a remote area during a routine outing that was part of a two-month program operated by Alternative Youth Adventures (AYA) in Montrose, Colo. The state has suspended AYA’s license.

Jensen and three other boys were placed at AYA by the Utah Division of Juvenile Services, which has enrolled 20 youngsters in AYA’s wilderness therapy program since July 2006. “We’ve had a very good track record with them,” a spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Human Services told The Associated Press.

A Colorado official told The Salt Lake Tribune that Jensen showed obvious signs of a staphylococcus infection while out with six other youths and three youth workers in a rugged area about two miles from any road. An AYA spokesman said the staff acted appropriately and the company is cooperating with the investigation.

AYA is owned by Community Education Centers (CEC), a for-profit based in Roseland, N.J., that runs residential and nonresidential correctional programs in seven states. AYA also operates in South Carolina. “These are our only juvenile programs,” said CEC Senior Vice President Bill Palatucci. He said CEC was formed in the mid-1990s and bought AYA “four or five years ago.”

No government agency counts youth deaths at such facilities. The Washington-based Coalition Against Institutionalized Child Abuse lists more than 100 youth deaths since 1988 in residential treatment facilities, boot camps, wilderness programs and behavior modification programs.

Contact: CEC (973) 226-2900,