Diamond Ranch Academy is a behavior modification program located in Hurricane, Utah. Formed in 1999, it runs 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. Diamond Ranch Academy boasts that it is a “premiere” treatment program for troubled teens, and on their website they call themselves a “Residential Treatment Center” and claim to treat a long list of mental disorders and adolescent behavior issues. Their marketing materials refer to a lush ranch setting facility with access to sports, outdoor activities and premiere educational opportunites. Even to the experienced eye, the marketing of DRA gives the impression that this is a quality boarding school, and that these kids are genuinely happy. However, that is not what survivors of this school are saying… They indicate that these advertisements are nothing short of a lie and that the children who attend DRA are physically, emotionally and psychologically abused.
What looks like a healthy environment, or fun outdoor activities are really merely rare photo ops that only the highest level students are allowed. What isn’t shown in their marketing materials tells the difference between what DRA markets themselves as and the brutal reality these children face everyday. This program employs MANY policies that have been determined to be abusive and they completely disregard the rights, individual needs and welfare of these children, all in the name of money. Tuition to DRA can cost roughly $6000 a month and anywhere from $72,000 – $200,000 (or more) simply to incarcerate a child and break their will.
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 incompetent methods in order to obstruct the truth and make claims to such impossibilities as a “miracle cure” for adolescent behavior. What is called “therapy” is not a clinically approved method of rehabilitation, it is an experimental psychological treatment that utilizes the response to fear, intimidation and the human longing for love and acceptance as weapons against children’s psyche and is forced upon them to ensure absolute submission to the program’s doctrine. What is called “school” is not a real class setting but a self-study program no more “premiere” than the average homeschool education plan. What are called “activities” or “work projects” are really useless tasks and manual labor used as punishment and torment. Most importantly, what is called “restraint” and promised to parents to be used as a last resort is in all actuality a violent and painful form of torture used as punishment. The reasonings given for such brutal techniques to be administered can be asinine and unnecessary, doled out by trigger happy staff that can only be described as “grown up bullies”. Despite the dangerous nature of such techniques and the misuse of them by unqualified, improperly trained staff, “restraints” have become a staple of the “therapy” administered at DRA.
The voices of the survivors of Diamond Ranch Academy are loud and clear. Diamond Ranch Academy is NOT the therapeutic boarding school they market themselves to be. In reality, it is nothing more than a private prison, where due process of the law and even the most basic of human rights are violated without any reason other than their parents felt they needed help and “it looked nice in the brochures”. We at DRA Survivors implore anyone looking into this school for their child to first, do their research, ask themselves if there are signs that point to an elaborate con, and if sending their child away is worth the risk that they might be abused, or never come back at all. RIP James Shirey.
Several troubling aspects of Diamond Ranch Academy have come to the attention of DRA Survivors that lead us to believe that DRA could be considered an abusive program. First, the manner in which students are transported to Diamond Ranch Academy is problematic. Diamond Ranch Academy engages in the use of “escort” or “transport” companies. These services amount to a transaction between parents and hired thugs to legally kidnap children and forcibly remove them, often across state lines, to Diamond Ranch Academy. Second, Diamond Ranch Academy practices strip searches during their admission process. These searches are invasive, traumatic, and unnecessary. These children aren’t criminals, and at any rate Diamond Ranch Academy isn’t registered or licensed as a public prison. They have usually been yanked out of bed at 3am and not allowed the decency to change their clothes throughout the process of the escort. They have most usually already been searched and scanned by the TSA and they pose a minimal risk to the security. An adequate clothed search would certainly be enough to ensure no contraband was admitted into the facility. It is the opinion of DRA Survivors that these strip searches are not only unnecessary but used purposefully as a means of dehumanization and humiliation. Another reported issue is the required blood sample upon admission. While this happens to be standard procedure at most (responsible) treatment centers, the concerning issue is that of what happens when a child refuses, either due to fear or belligerence, to allow the blood to be drawn. Survivor reports indicate that when this happens a child is forcibly “restrained” in a violent manner. Try to picture a frightened young man or woman, far away from home, being violently dropped to the floor and having blood forcibly drawn from their body. Suffices 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 51% of their parental custody of their child to DRA, allowing them to make decisions for the child such as medical needs, discipline and the right to dictate what other programs they may be admitted to as well as the right to transport them across state lines and even over the international border. They require parents to agree to give up their rights to personally protect or even speak to their child, for at least 10 weeks and quite possibly for the entirety of their child’s stay in the program.
Although DRA’s marketing materials state that they are offering a “treatment” plan, their contract clearly indicates that the children are in no way receiving treatment for any diagnosable mental illness or disease, substance abuse, or emotional issues. This runs in direct opposition to Diamond Ranch Academy’s website and marketing materials that advertise that they can help students with mental illnesses, substance abuse issues, eating disorders, and emotional issues even those as minor as defiance. This they claim to do all with one treatment plan and a one size fits all approach, the “Program”. The fact that they admit children with mental illnesses and claim to treat them with an experimental treatment that has neither been proven effective nor clinically approved is nothing short of false advertisement. What is being offered as treatment, is NOT treatment. It is ABUSE!
These contracts include permission to “restrain” and discipline the child to any extent deemed necessary to the staff, and are represented to be used as a last resort in the instance where a child may become a danger to themselves or to others. However, this provision is a lie. Not only are “restraints” not really restraints and certainly not safe and ethical holds performed by trained professionals, the “restraints” amount to nothing more than infliction of pain through pressure points, excessive use of force and wrestling-style limb manipulating submissions. The reasons these “restraints” are justified to be used are NOT for the welfare of the child, but rather for the purposes of punishment and inflicting long term fear and intimidation. Often times the reasons are no more than the child questioning an order, or failing to do something in the expected manner or even for giving up and doing/ saying nothing at all. Because this use of force is granted to staff members without regulation, “restraint” can be doled out for any reason at all, and it is often given with the intent to torture and abuse a child into compliance.
When a parent signs this contract they are essentially giving up their right to demand access to their child. Communication between children and their parents are vigilantly monitored, and children are threatened with “citations” if they mention anything negative about the program. If a child does not reach the level required to speak to their parents twice a month, they could quite literally go years without speaking to each other, and unmonitored communication to anyone outside the program is not allowed. Students of Diamond Ranch Academy are refused the right and access to a phone to call 911 for help if they have a medical issue or feel they were being abused. This leads to many incidents going unreported, and the children being denied adequate medical care because the medical staff is not on duty. Communication with the outside world is absolutely forbidden. After the student has achieved the levels that allow them visits, they may feel they have too much to lose if they made attempt to speak against the school or run away, by that time they are close enough to graduating that any attempts of this nature could cause them to be dropped and to start the program all over again, this being the fear that will keep them in line with the program. After students graduate, the fear of being sent back keeps them from speaking out, or even processing the abuse they suffered for long periods of time after the fear has been abated. 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.
Diamond Ranch Academy’s program consists of 6 levels, all with increasing allowances and responsibilities. When a student first arrives at the facility they are put through a process of “breaking down” where they are mentally, emotionally and physically pushed to the brink, until compliance with the “Program” is sufficiently achieved. After this hellish process is over students are allowed back into the facility to progress through the next levels and eventually achieve “upper levels” where they then become the enforcers of the program.
Level 1 – Homeless
Level 2 – Student
Level 3 – Supervisor
Level 4 – Manager
Level 5 – Director
Level 6 – Graduate
The problem is that what is called “therapy” in these places is not what most real mental health professionals would consider efficacious therapy. Academically, what is being practiced is called Aversion Therapy or Attack Therapy and in addition to being thoroughly discredited from the standpoint of safety and effectiveness, it can also be extremely traumatic for anyone experiencing it.
The education plan at DRA is subpar, no more than a homeschool self-study program. Students are denied access to lectures, labs, classmate participation and computers. Test’s are easy and designed in ways to easily cheat and pass with perfect grades, in doing so, the pace is accelerated and children can complete multiple years worth of school in a matter of months. This seems to parents to be an improvement but it is ultimately a disservice, in that as most of what is learned is not retained, and this presents issues in testing for the SAT’s and college entrance exams. Colleges and universities also can easily see through this method and sometimes give less weight or even disallow the use of diplomas received in this way.