Diamond Ranch Academy is a behavior modification program located in Hurricane, Utah. Originally formed in 1999, it ran four separate facilities: Crystal Springs Campus for girls aged 12-16, Whisper Creek Campus for girls aged 16-18, Stone Ridge Campus for boys aged 12-15, and Lava Falls Campus for boys aged 16-18. As of 2012 DRA built and now operates on a new facility a few miles away from the original compound and near Sand Hollow State Park. Tuition for DRA can cost roughly $6000 a month and anywhere from $72,000 – $200,000 (or more) depending on the length of time the child is enrolled. Typically the average stay is 10 months to a year. Many students have stayed 18 months or more.
Diamond Ranch Academy boasts that it is a “premiere” youth residential treatment center that provides “elite private boarding school opportunities” and claims to offer a long list of therapeutic services to address adolescent behavior issues. Their marketing materials refer to a lush ranch setting facility with access to sports, outdoor activities and premiere educational opportunities. DRA markets itself as a high-quality therapeutic boarding school. However, that is not what former students of this school are saying… They indicate that children who have attend DRA were “physically, emotionally and psychologically abused”.
Deceptive marketing techniques are nothing new to the troubled teen industry, often when explaining the aspects of the program they use commonly known words to describe their program in order bring credibility to methods. What is called “The program” of Diamond Ranch Academy is not a clinically approved or evidenced based method of rehabilitation, but an experimental form of behavior modification that utilizes the response to fear to ensure submission to the program’s doctrine. What is called “therapy” does not follow the guidelines of traditional psychotherapy but instead is confrontational, forceful and unproductive. “Academics” at DRA are not conducted in a formal class setting and offer a self-study program no more “premiere” than the average home school education plan. According to former students, “Restraint” (which DRA claims to be use as a last resort only) is actually a violent and painful form of torture. Restraining a student may happen for any violation of the school’s rules, and is doled out by unlicensed, therapeutically unqualified staff members that many former students refer to as “grown up bullies”. Despite the dangerous nature of such techniques as employed by staff members, “restraints” are integral to the “therapy” administered at DRA.
Students report that the DRA’s environment is quite harsh, and operates much more like a prison or boot camp than a school. DRA operates a “one-size-fits-all” program that they admit on their own website, does not work for everyone. Former students describe it as a hellish experience, where they are broken down, degraded and humiliated on a daily basis.
Former students report that DRA owners and staff completely disregard the rights, individual needs and welfare of the children in their care. According to survivor testimony, children are admitted against their will and refused the right to legal representation or a phone call to report abuses. Reports also indicate that medical staff do not respond in a timely manner to medical complaints.
Diamond Ranch Academy is NOT the therapeutic boarding school they market themselves to be. It is a privately-run teen prison, where due process of the law and even the most basic human rights of children may be violated without cause, legal repercussion or the ability for a student who has become the victim of abuse to voice their grievance. We at DRA Survivors implore anyone looking into this school for their child to first, do their research. Ask yourselves if there are signs that point to a program that looks “too good to be true”. Is sending your child away worth the risk that they will be abused… or that they will never come back at all? RIP James Shirey.
Diamond Ranch Academy’s history has been documented on this website since before they operated on their current grounds. While conditions have likely improved on the new campus, the “tough love” methodology and the staff who have always ran DRA remain the same. When considering the testimonies of the former students it is important to recognize that while things may have changed on the surface, (new campus, skate park, TV’s) the core policies of DRA have remained unchanged.
Several policies of Diamond Ranch Academy could be considered unethical, unsafe and in some instances, abusive. These are our concerns with DRA’s policies:
- Escorts – Diamond Ranch Academy engages in the use of “escort” or “transport” companies. Parents often must hire an agency to legally kidnap children and forcibly remove them, often across state lines, to Diamond Ranch Academy. Former students report this process to be traumatic, degrading and in some instances, resulting in injury.
- Strip Searches – Diamond Ranch Academy practices strip searches of minor children during the admission process. Diamond Ranch Academy is not registered or licensed as a public prison, jail or detainment facility recognized by the U.S. government, Yet these children are automatically treated like criminals upon their arrival. It is the opinion of DRA Survivors that these strip searches are not only unnecessary and overused (multiple times a day) but used as a means of humiliation and dehumanization.
- Forced Medical Evaluations – Diamond Ranch Academy requires a blood sample upon admission. While this is standard procedure at most treatment centers, the concerning issue is what happens when a child refuses to cooperate in giving a blood sample: Survivor reports indicate that when this happens a child is forcibly “restrained” in a violent manner. We have also received reports that admitted females, minor children, are forcibly given pelvic exams and threatened with physical restraint if they refuse. Suffice to say that at the very minimum, we feel this is not a good way to start a therapeutic relationship.
Diamond Ranch Academy requires parents to sign a contract that legally grants DRA the right to make decisions for the child such as medical needs, physical discipline and the right to dictate what other programs they may be admitted to- subsequently they must relinquish the custody to DRA to transport students across state lines and even over international borders. They require parents to agree to give up their rights to personally protect or speak to their child for at least 2 weeks- possibly for the entirety of their child’s stay in the program (if the student shows no progress).
Diamond Ranch Academy’s website and marketing materials advertise that they can help students with mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, eating disorders, and emotional issues- even those as minor as defiance. In reality the staff and program in place at Diamond Ranch Academy is ill-equipped to treat any child with significant mental health issues. The admission of students with mental health issues has led to the death of at least one boy by suicide.
DRA’s contract includes permission to “restrain” and discipline a child to any extent deemed necessary to the staff in the instance where a child may be a danger to themselves or to others. This provision is a lie. “Restraint” at DRA is an unsafe, unethical practice doled out by unqualified staff by inflicting pain through pressure points, excessive use of force and wrestling-style limb manipulating submissions. These “restraints” are used NOT for the welfare of the child, but rather for the purpose of punishment, fear and intimidation and can lead to significant injury. “Restraint” may be enforced if a child questions an order, or fails to do perform a given task in a manner deemed satisfactory by staff- or even other students. Even doing/ saying nothing at all can be enough cause to have a child “restrained” for disobedience. Because this use of force is granted to staff members (via parental consent) without regulation or consequence “restraint” can be doled out for any reason at any time, often with the intent to coerce a child into compliance.
Parents who sign this contract give up their right to have immediate access to their child. Communication between children and their parents are vigilantly monitored, and unmonitored communication to anyone outside the program (including relatives, legal representation or law enforcement) is in violation of DRA’s protocol. Children are given “citations” if they mention anything negative about the program- citations may often increase the length of time they are allotted to stay at DRA. A child who shows no progress in the program does not earn the privilege of a twice-monthly communication home and could quite literally go years without speaking to his/her parents.
Students at Diamond Ranch Academy do not have access to phones or the Internet. They are unable to contact law enforcement to report abuse. They are unable to dial 911 in case of medical emergency. This leads to many incidents going unreported, and the children being denied adequate medical care if the medical staff is not on duty.
Suicide attempts have been made on multiple occasions, and instead of following protocol to have these children evaluated at a hospital, DRA’s policy is to put students on “Suicide Watch” until staff believes they are no longer suicidal. The issue with this process is that it is not a therapeutic experience; former students describe it as a punishment that includes being strip searched every two hours, woken up and having your bed and belongings searched multiple times a night, and unable to speak to anyone besides staff who refused to speak to you unless it was “on task”.
When a parent gives up their children’s rights to Diamond Ranch Academy, their child becomes a commodity, not a patient. The care they receive amounts to no more than privately funded incarceration. DRA admits in their contracts that success is not guaranteed, and that their program does not work for every child. While this is true, the reality is that it does not work for most children. Generally, an neuro-typical teenager, without a significant drug problem or emotional issue can get through the program without a problem, but a child in need of real treatment may not find the environment suited to their individual needs.
Diamond Ranch Academy’s program consists of 6 levels, all with increasing allowances and responsibilities. Initial levels focus on depriving students of privacy, communication, privileges and all forms of comfort until he/she submits to cooperation with the program. DRA claims to offer a 4 day “orientation” in which staff “get to know” the student and formulate a treatment plan. Former students refer to this initial period as Homeless/ O&A (Observation and Assessment) – a process of “breaking down” their free will by mentally, emotionally, verbally and physically pushing them into accepting the program. Students report this process to include strict rules, absolutely no talking, need to ask for permission for everything, sitting/ lying in stress positions, outside all day in 100+ degree heat running laps, doing calisthenics, pulling weeds, cleaning, doing grueling work projects and menial assigned tasks. Students report being unreasonably restrained multiple times a day. Food is restricted to plain boiled oats for breakfast and rice and lentils for lunch and dinner (everyday). Former aspects of this process included: Students required to pull a Horse Cart around a track, sleep outside, digging holes, moving rocks, Only allowed to use port-o-potty and 3 minute showers.
After at least 14 days (up to months) Students deemed to be in compliance are allowed back into the general population of the facility to progress through the next levels and eventually achieve “upper levels” where they become “Managers” – enforcers of DRA’s protocols upon lower level students. If a student at any level is charged with an offense beyond a simple citation, they can be sent to RFI (Re-Focus Initiative) which is a refresher course on the initial Homeless/ O&A process.
Orientation– Homeless or O&A (Observation & Assessment)
Level 1 – Unemployment
Level 2 – Student
Level 3 – Supervisor
Level 4 – Manager
Level 5 – Director
Level 6 – Graduate
RFI (Re-Focus Initiative)
For parents considering residential placement for their child it is important to understand what Behavior Modification/ Aversion Therapy is and how it may hurt your child in an unregulated residential treatment setting. Behavior Modification or Applied Behavior Analysis was first introduced in theory by BF Skinner in his 1957 book Verbal Behavior, which even in it’s time was known to be controversial but has over the years been redesigned for the purposes of application in residential treatment. Still considered an experimental therapy and outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment in some states, Aversion Therapy is cautioned to be used with reservation in adequately regulated environments and only by responsible mental health professionals. DRA does not provide an adequately qualified staff or the required clinical environment to conduct such experiments.
Academics at DRA are no more rigorous than a home-school, self-study program. Students are denied regular access to lectures, labs, classmate participation and computers. Testing is designed to provide perfect grades with minimal effort. Academics, on paper, are accelerated and children can complete multiple years worth of school in a matter of months. Parents of formerly troubled youths view this as an improvement- though ultimately this overview of education presents issues to students who plan to take SAT’s and college entrance exams.
Although DRA does employ licensed social workers and a small population of trained therapists, the majority of staff responsible for the children in their day to day activities are NOT licensed- many have little education beyond a high school diploma. According to licensing records, there are no licensed Ph.D’s or Psy.D’s on campus. DRA does not employ a resident supervising physician, their Clinical Director has only a license in Social Work. No staff on campus have certifications in Child Development, Abnormal Psychology or Applied Behavior Analysis. This raises the question… Are the staff of DRA qualified to be treating “troubled youth” in a Residential Treatment Center?
The Medical Staff of DRA are under qualified for the positions they hold. DRA’s Medical Director is licensed as a Nurse, not as a physician- students report the Medical director on campus only visits once a week, on Thursdays. The sole licensed MD, Dr Danny K. Worwood; seems to be unheard of by all current reports. The medical assistants in charge of dispensing medications are not licensed to do so. Former students have reported that it took weeks, if not months to see a doctor for significant injuries, and illnesses were not properly treated. Medical neglect is a common theme within the troubled teen industry. Many children have died in similar residential treatment centers because staff refuse to take student’s medical complaints seriously, insisting they are “faking it”. This policy is extremely dangerous and has already led to the death of at least one confirmed death on DRA’s campus.
Diamond Ranch Academy is currently licensed by the state of Utah as a “Residential Treatment Center”. An honest evaluation of the “program” in place at DRA by its former attendees, based on the definition of a “Residential Treatment Center” by the state of Utah, reveals that DIAMOND RANCH ACADEMY SHOULD NOT be considered a legitimate treatment center and should not be licensed by the state to provide residential treatment. At best, DRA COULD qualify to be licensed as a “Therapeutic School” IF they were willing to follow Utah’s laws and regulations of licensing of Therapeutic Schools. Considering Utah’s track record and laws regulating this industry, even if properly enforced, the performance by Utah DHS (Particularly the office of licensing) would still leave much to be desired. This total lack of oversight seems to extend to the Hurricane Police Department as several former students, as well as the admins of DRASurvivors have made complaints to the Hurricane Police Department only to be “laughed at” and refused the right to make a report. The fact that reports are so hard to make provides an unfair advantage for DRA to claim that abuse does not occur, giving their victims no choice but to speak out to the public about their experiences.
Negative Side Effects
According to many former students, the negative side effects of their experience at DRA outweigh any benefit they may have achieved while enrolled. Most often graduates return to the same behaviors within 6 months to a year, and often fall further than before while “making up for lost time”. After students graduate, the fear of being sent back keeps them from speaking out, or even processing the abuse they suffered. The effects of such psychological abuse can last years before survivors even feel comfortable with recognizing the signs of abuse and maltreatment they were subjected to as children.
The SURVIVORS who have come forward to this website to share their stories do so only out of concern for the children currently held in DRA. They sincerely request that DRA LISTEN to their concerns and make some reasonable changes to ensure that risk of harm is reduced and that not one more child has to die in treatment at Diamond Ranch Academy.
DRASurvivors.com makes every effort to ensure that the information presented herein is true, and substantiated by first hand reports of former students of Diamond Ranch Academy. DRASurvivors.com provides this information with no malice toward Diamond Ranch Academy, but only as a public service message for parents looking for more information. DRASurvivors.com provides an unbiased reporting system, presenting any and all submitted reports in equal standing regardless of negative or positive. All information published herein are presented as opinions based on the personal experience of the former students of DRA and the advocates who represent them. DRASurvivors.com’s admins welcome disputes regarding the information published herein and welcome open communication with any concerned party. Any questions, comments or for more information contact: