Boys sent to harsh reform school for 35 years

  • Doors shut: Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania

    Doors shut: Glen Mills Schools in Pennsylvania

Boys from Bermuda were shipped off to a harsh reform school for more than 35 years until 2017.

But the name of Glen Mills Schools, the oldest institution of its type in America, would have meant nothing to most Bermudians until April last year.

It was only when The Royal Gazette began to research a list of schools, provided by a source, used by the Department of Child and Family Services as part of its psychoeducational programme that the Pennsylvania school made headlines on the island — for all the wrong reasons.

The Philadelphia Inquirer two months earlier ran a special report with interviews with 21 past and present Glen Mills pupils and counsellors and that also contained several allegations of serious assaults by staff on the children in their care.

The newspaper reported that Glen Mills overhauled its staff training and safety programmes in 2000 after eight children told inspectors they had suffered physical abuse.

The special report followed an Inquirer article in August 2018 about a 17-year-old boy who alleged he was choked and punched by a counsellor while other staff held him down.

The Royal Gazette ran its first story on Glen Mills in April and detailed how boys from Bermuda without any criminal convictions and without legal representation were sent to the school.

Two young men from the island who went to the school almost 20 years ago were later interviewed and they said they told social workers back then about the mistreatment they suffered.

They claimed the school’s harsh treatment of students was common knowledge among boys in the care system in Bermuda.

One of the young men alleged he heard pupils rape other children while he was in bed at night.

The other said he spent “six months of hell” there when he was 16 and was beaten behind closed doors by staff.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs, which is responsible for the DCFS, said it was “deeply concerned with the allegations being raised through the media”.

A spokeswoman said: “We condemn any actions that would harm a child physically or emotionally. We encourage those individuals to come forward and file a formal complaint to enable a proper investigation to occur.”

The spokeswoman earlier insisted that the department only became aware of allegations of abuse at Glen Mills in February, when it was notified by the school.

She said: “Bermuda has used Glen Mills for more than 35 years. At this time, the number of young men that have been sent there is unknown and time restraints have not allowed us ... to obtain the number.

“The last child was admitted in 2017. Currently there are no children registered or attending Glen Mills from the Department of Child and Family Services.”

The spokeswoman added: “Glen Mills was at one time a very highly respected institution and that is why prior to 2017, DCFS used their services. Over the past few years, DCFS has used local resources and services for children in need.”

The Inquirer report sparked several investigations and the emergency removal of 383 boys from Glen Mills.

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services said in the emergency removal order that it had verified attacks by staff on children involving choking and punching, as well as a child being forced to lie about the cause of his injuries.

The order added that a staff member had failed to intervene in a pupil-on-pupil assault, which resulted in a broken jaw. The school, about 30 miles from Philadelphia, denied the allegations in a detailed appeal filed with the Pennsylvania DHS Bureau of Hearings and Appeals.

But it was shut by state authorities, who concluded there was a string of violations of regulations, as well as incompetence in its operation.

Glen Mills is now under new leadership and hopes to reopen.

Christopher Spriggs, the acting executive director of Glen Mills, said on the schools’ website that he was opposed to the use of physical restraints on pupils and would introduce a system of intervention based on comfort rather than control if allowed to reopen.

Jeff Jubelirer, a spokesman for the schools, said last week: “At this time, Glen Mills Schools continues to co-operate with all governmental entities conducting reviews.

“Should we be afforded the opportunity again to admit students, our programmes, living units, staffing, and philosophy will look vastly different.

“In fact, we have already begun embarking on a restructuring effort that includes new hiring practices, a restructuring of our residential units and a complete programme overhaul.”

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Published Dec 10, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 10, 2019 at 7:03 am)

Boys sent to harsh reform school for 35 years

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