For seventeen years Melvin and Betty Sembler operated a large and destructive chain of juvenile rehab programs, called Straight Inc. These techniques involved actual torture: degrading and humiliating treatment, sexual abuse, physical beatings, lack of proper food or sanitation, sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, and lack of medical care. The inhumane conditions have been likened to Korean prisoner of war camps. After multiple lawsuits which alleged severe child abuse, Straight Inc. was finally shut down.
Many children perished from suicide secondary to the psychological trauma of being tortured in Straight Inc. facilities. During his research, Wes Fager documented forty suicides following known Straight Inc. abuse.
It is estimated that five percent of children and adults who attended Straight Inc. did so under court order, this court ordering children into Straight even continued after child abuse allegations had already been filed against the corporation.
An important lesson can be learned
from study of Straight Inc.'s success - any
revulsion those in authority may have toward cruelty and mistreatment of teens
can be assuaged by the transformative influence of political contributions. Melvin Sembler was a very successful political
fundraiser. People at the highest levels of the U.S.A. government have endorsed
and facilitated Straight Inc. and its spin off programs, including Nancy
Reagan, George Bush Sr., Jeb Bush, and George Bush Jr. These endorsements were made despite the
reports of increased suicide in Florida counties where Straight Inc. had opened
and operated its centers, as already reported. [ii]
After extensive federal and state investigations into the abuse, the Straight Inc. program just changed its legal name and continued business as usual. This gave rise to a myriad of programs under various names but all with the same abusive treatment of children. Torture, which is prohibited under U.S.A. law and under international law, had been used by Straight Inc. as a means to perpetrate insurance fraud as well as fraud against the U.S.A. taxpayer. As Straight Inc. branched out, it was adept at getting government grants to fuel its growth.
The entrenched system of abusive coercion against licensed medical professionals is facilitated by corrupted partners in strategic positions. This is why there are not effective actions against the known abusive and criminal treatment center network that still operates today.
Judicial accountability issues arose and Pinellas County (Florida) prosecutorial discretion decisions were questioned when The SEED was in operation. James T. Russell (Pinellas County state Attorney) did not investigate abuse at SEED in spite of numerous reports of abuse. One of his chief Assistant State Attorney's was on Straight's board of directors and another chief assistant who was frequently assigned to investigate HRS-related complaints later became chairman of the Pinellas County Republican Party at a time when Mel Sembler was treasurer for the state Republican Party. Former Pinellas County state Attorney James T. Russell and Pinellas County Sheriff Don Gedung visited the SEED program and recommended opening a SEED expansion facility in Pinellas County. Sixth Circuit (Pinellas/Pasco County) Judge Jack Dadswell had two kids in The SEED in Fort Lauderdale. He had been on the Executive Committee which had brought The SEED to St. Petersburg in Pinellas County. Sixth Circuit Justices William L. Walker and James B. Sanderlin had served on The SEED's Advisory Board along with Russell, Gedung and Dr. Charles J. Crist, vice chairman of the Pinellas County school board and father of Charlie Crist (Florida's Attorney General). Sixth Circuit Judge Jack Page sent kids to The SEED.
Judges can cooperate in the abusive treatment schemes and court-order a defendant to "treatment" in a center that provides them financial incentives. Judge Juanita Marsh court ordered both adult and juvenile defendants into the Atlanta facility, which she co-owned. Judge Marsh also founded Anchor Hospital, which opened in early 1986, based on her experience with a son who is permanently disabled due to addiction. [iii] Anchor draws its referrals from metro Atlanta, but Talbott-Marsh's patients came from throughout the U.S.A. and abroad (many referred through ASAM contacts and the FSPHP). Benjamin Underwood and Dr. Talbott, who now run Anchor Hospital, also ran its sister facility, the Talbott-Marsh Recovery Center.
Dr. Stanton Peel wrote a revealing article called "In the Belly of the Beast," which describes the abusive treatment suffered by clients in the Atlanta center run by George Talbott. The Talbott-Marsh Recovery Center was co-owned by Judge Juanita Marsh. Dr. Leon Masters successfully sued Talbott for false imprisonment and misdiagnosis. Dr. Masters testified that he and other professionals were harmed by the abusive methods used. There were numerous suicides.
In Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, county Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan were accused of using juvenile delinquents as pawns in a plot to get rich. [iv] From 2003-2008 the two judges court-ordered as many as 4,000 children, most of who were charged with low-level misdemeanor offenses, into abusive facilities and programs. These young juveniles had appeared before the court without an attorney, were subsequently convicted and sentenced through the Luzerne County juvenile court process. The judges were alleged to accept kickbacks from the developer and former owner of two private juvenile facilities when referrals were court-ordered. The case illuminated an organized system for using vulnerable populations for profit.
In the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Juvenile Law Center filed an
application for extraordinary relief, seeking to vacate and expunge the records
on behalf of all Luzerne County youth adjudicated delinquent and sanctioned
without legal representation. [v] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that
Judge Ciavarella sentenced young offenders without regard to their constitutional
rights and decided to dismiss 4,000 juvenile convictions issued by Judge Ciavarella.
Judge Cleland said, "Our concern is
also the inaction of others - inaction by judges, prosecutors, public
defenders, the defense bar, public officials and private citizens, those who
knew but failed to speak, those who saw but failed to act," Judge Cleland said. [vi] [vii] [viii] Dr. Frank Vita, Judge Conahan's
brother-in-law, did (questionable) court-ordered psychological evaluations of
juvenile defendants. Judge Ciavarella
was found guilty on 12 of 39 federal charges.
Federal prosecutors presented compelling testimony that Judge
Ciavarella and Judge Conahan had taken nearly $2.9 million in bribes from the
real estate developer of the Pennsylvania Child Care and Western Pennsylvania
Child Care Detention Centers. [ix] The "kids for cash" scheme was exposed and
Ciavarella was convicted of racketeering although acquitted on extortion. [x]
Children as young as 10 years old had been locked up. The accused delinquents were shackled,
handcuffed and dragged away from court to the facilities. One defendant, a 17-year-old with no prior record, was arrested for possession of drug
paraphernalia. He stated that he was
traumatized by the time he was forced to spend in the detention centers and a
wilderness camp. Also, see the
survivors/victims stories in a 2009 episode of ABC's "20/20."
[ii] Kelly Mathews, a Straight Inc. Survivor -- Her brother, who was also in Straight Inc., died of suicide . WebDiva.org, http://webdiva.org/straight/ , Kelly Matthews, is in process of making a movie entitled Surviving Straight Inc - The Movie. SurvivingStraightTheMovie.com, http://www.survivingstraightincthemovie.com/ This is her own story, WebDiva.org, http://webdiva.org/straight/ SurvivingStraightInc. Com, Surviving Straight Inc.
[iii] Anason, Dean, "Anchor and Talbott-Marsh treat addicted professionals," Atlanta Business Chronicle, November 11, 1996, 12:00am EST, BizJournals.com, http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/stories/1996/11/11/focus5.html#ixzz1ObP5QKQ9 .