The "Bible boot camp" and "kiddie gulag" industry have been frequent subjects of writing here in this diary--from reports of abuses in "Bible boot camps" to an expose series on the Assemblies-run "Teen Challenge" chain.
One thing I've been big on is efforts to shut down the "kiddie gulag" industry by requiring federal standards for facilities of this type (many of these facilities are entirely unregulated due to operating as "faith-based" dominionist "parallel economy" alternatives to legit social work and mental health services. And it turns out that just such a model law--originally entered this Congressional session as HR 5876 (with a new bill number, HR 6358)--has passed its first big hurdle in that the House version is approved.
An update on HR 5876--now HR 6358
HR 5876--which would mandate minimum standards in US residential facilities for teens and which would ban sending kids to "offshore" facilities has been proposed in a number of forms, including originally in 2005 as HR 1738--because, in part, of parents of children who died in these facilities and survivors of "kiddie gulags" speaking out. ("Offshoring" has been increasingly popular by operators of "kiddie gulags", in particular the WWASPS chain of facilities who run a particularly infamous "kiddie gulag" in Jamaica, precisely because these facilities are outside of US jurisdiction.)
For the first time this year, there were formal congressional hearings (related to noting why HR 5876 was a necessity) on the "kiddie gulag" industry--which I've reported on in past.
It would appear that not only have the parents and survivors made an impact, you did too.
In the two months since I posted the original article on HR 5876, a lot of action has occured. On 17 June, H. Res. 1276 was passed to consider HR 5876 before the House; on June 20th the bill was sent for complete consideration after a vote of 223 ayes to 185 noes.
Sometime around 25 June the bill number was changed, to HR 6358; if anything, HR 6358 is an even stronger bill because it requires ongoing monitoring and a national database of reports of abuse at these facilities and ongoing reports to the Secretary of Health and Human Services--and also appropriates $15,000,000 for this yearly (not much, I know, but better than nothing) on the federal end as well as an ongoing grant program to help states enforce the act...and a legal hammer to require joint investigations for states (like Florida and Missouri) not holding up their end of the bargain. In addition, the bill requires formal followup studies (by legitimate review groups and not just relying on self-reporting by groups like Teen Challenge et al).
Another biggie is that all people working in residential treatment facilities--including "kiddie gulags"--will be required to meet the same standards as with people working with the YMCA; that is, must have background checks and specific training on child abuse, neglect, and dangerous conditions such as hypothermia and heat stroke. Keeping kids incommunicado--as is done with WWASPS, and has been reported at Teen Challenge even in their own documentation--is prohibited; formal databases must be kept with Department of Health and Human Services of programs, their licensing status, if deaths have occured, if the program has ever been subject to state actions--and this is required to be publically available and web links published in all promotional literature.
On June 25th, HR 6358--the bill that may well shut down the "kiddie gulag" industry for good--passed the House. The bill passed 318 yea, 103 nay.
Still much work to do
That said--there is still much to do.
One thing that was lost in the final version, unfortunately, was the prohibition on "offshoring"--which is a Bad Thing, seeing as the "offshoring" trend to avoid US jurisdiction is one that is already used by some groups--and would likely be used as a major loophole should this bill become law.
Secondly--and one way we can close the final loophole--now the Senate must pass a version, and have its version reconciled with the House version. Passing the bill may be tougher in the Senate, but may well still be possible.
The third hurdle is largely dependant on when the bill reaches the President's desk. If it hits when Bush is still in office (entirely possible if it hits before January), there is likely to be a veto or "signing statement" and a majority necessary for a veto override is going to be needed. Sadly, I do think Bush would in fact veto this bill; he has a very well documented history (as does his brother Jeb Bush) of totally deregulating "faith-based" facilities due to accusations of abuse. (The reason Texas was, and is to some extent still, a haven for abusive "kiddie gulags" is because of a "get out of jail free" card Dubya provided to Teen Challenge--which was about to be shut down in Texas due to reports of abuse and educational neglect.)
If Obama is in office by the time we get the bill to the President's desk, he may well be more receptive to voting yes--and we can finally get an effective bill to give at least protection to kids in the US.
One project, too, we need to work on IMHO--each and every one of those 103 "nays" need to be treated as someone to get out of office. (One of them, of note, was Rep. Ron Lewis in KY--who literally has had dominionist groups, including those directly linked to the "kiddie gulag" industry, explicitly stumping for him.) The same should go for anyone who votes "nay" in the Senate once the Senate version is introduced.
This is one of those times where 20-Mule-Team DKos can have a real effect--and potentially save the lives of kids interned in these facilities (which even Congressional testimony compared to the abusive conditions documented at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib).
a) If your rep voted "yes", call their offices and thank them very much for their vote. (Yes, we want to encourage good behaviour. :D)
b) If your rep voted "no" or abstained, call them and explain politely why they will not be getting your vote in the next election.
c) Call your Senators (yes, both of them) and urge them to vote "yes" on the Senate version of HR 6358--and consider adding amendments prohibiting sending kids to facilities offshore that do not meet US standards and providing for repatriation assistance to kids wishing to leave these facilities.