Exotic school names like Tranquility Bay and Paradise Cove and beachside locations in countries like Jamaica, Fiji and Western Samoa suggest that troubled-teen students will find an idyllic and understanding academic paradise where they can reform. Instead the pupils behind the schools' barbed wire fences have been subjected to abuse and half of the schools have been forced to close.
Tranquility Bay looks at the private reform-school industry for wayward American teens and the unhappy parents who are increasingly speaking out about the practices in these institutions. It is a growing industry and affluent parents pay up to $25,000 a year in school fees.
The World Wide Association of Specialty Programs (WWASP) is the leading provider of behaviour modification programs for American teens. At the helm of a company which earns $95 million per year is Robert Browning Lichfield, a Utah resident and Mormon, who has built his fortune through the numerous WWASP programs that are located throughout the world. He is in charge of a virtual empire of schools where complaints of physical and sexual abuse are allegedly ignored by American authorities.
The school's popularity feeds on the strong level of concern that parents have for their delinquent children. Parents attend seminars where they are led to believe that their children can be changed for the better and then sign contracts with WWASP which specify it is allowed to use pepper spray, electronic disablers, mace, mechanical restraints and handcuffs to enforce good behaviour. The contract also states that the organisation is not liable for any harm the child should suffer while in its care. There are also allegations that the schools lack a comprehensive academic curriculum, operate without a license from the education ministry and offer student qualifications that aren't officially recognised in America.
At WWASP, punishments are of a physical nature and designed to inflict extreme pain on the receiver. Misbehaviour such as talking at inappropriate moments is punished by relegation to the "dog cage"- a small boxed area where a student is forced to lie face-down for hours, days or months, in extreme heat conditions. One female student was subjected to this punishment for 18 months.
Foreign authorities have been sufficiently concerned with the activities of the schools to shut down establishments in Western Samoa, Costa Rica, Mexico and the Czech Republic. In total, six out of twelve WWASP schools have closed amidst allegations of child abuse. An increasing number of parents who are shocked at the physical and emotional scars borne by their returning children have started to speak out against WWASP, under the threat of lawsuits. The film follows the progress of a defamation suit that WWASP brought against single mother, Sue Scheff, who set up a website detailing her objections to the way her son was treated in Tranquility Bay, Jamaica.
The program claims that the profitability of WWASP goes a long way to explaining why American authorities have not mounted investigations into its activities. An examination of personal finances of school executives, such as Robert Browning Lichfield, indicates that they are amongst the biggest donors to the Republican Party and gave over $1 million in political donations in 2002-2004 and also fund the missionary work of the Mormon movement. (From France, in English and French, with English subtitles)
One of America’s best-kept secrets is Tranquility Bay, an extremely strict re-education camp for youngsters, one of which is located in Jamaica. Parents are sent glossy leaflets with pleasant sounding texts to persuade them to pay $33,000 a year and hand over their troubled teens to WWSAP, a conglomerate founded by businessmen from Utah.The heavenly beach where the teenagers are supposedly taught some discipline turns out to be a Caribbean gulag where all contact with the outside world is eliminated, as this documentary indictment reveals. Only when her son returned from Tranquility Bay did Paula Reeves, a lawyer from Florida, hear what really took place behind its closed doors: brainwashing and abuse are not unusual. Reeves takes legal action. In a statement to the parents,WWASP president Ken Kay claims that:“The teens making the allegations generally have a long history of lying, exaggerating and being dishonest.”
Note: this film aired in Australia and France only, and is not available in the U.S.
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