CCHR Issues Resolution to Replace Forced Psychiatric Treatment and Torture with Human Rights

CCHR Issues Resolution to Replace Forced Psychiatric Treatment and Torture with Human Rights
The task we set ourselves—to combat psychiatric coercion—is important. It is a noble task in the pursuit of which we must, regardless of obstacles, persevere. Our conscience commands that we do no less. – The late Dr. Thomas Szasz, Professor of Psychiatry

Mental Illness Awareness month reveals shocking media reports of forced psychiatric treatment, patient abuse, deaths in psychiatric facilities, teenage mutiny over poor conditions, torturous use of skin shocks for behavioral control, and civil rights violations.

By Jan Eastgate
President CCHR International
October 14, 2022

During Mental Illness Awareness month in October, it is important to recognize the increasing harm that can be done to people in the name of “mental health care” and the need for protections, including safeguards against forced psychiatric treatment and mental health “screening.” From major news programs sending reporters “undercover” into psychiatric facilities to document patient abuse, to community groups and legislators challenging and exposing the damage that teen behavioral incarceration and “treatment” causes, and to the class action lawsuits that have followed—all of it epitomizes what the co-founder of Citizens Commission on Human Rights, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, said: “Psychiatry does not commit human rights abuse. It is a human rights abuse.”[1] To raise awareness on World Mental Health Day, CCHR International launched its Resolution against Coercive Psychiatric Practices that anyone can download, sign and send to their legislative representative asking them to support human rights-based approaches in the field of mental health.

Americans take considerable pride in their Constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, but because mental health laws often abridge or ignore those rights, stringent protections are needed. This is especially the case in the U.S., which is a signatory to both the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. The UN Human Rights Council and the World Health Organization have condemned enforced psychiatric detainment and treatment as torture.[2]

Szasz particularly pointed out: “The systematic confinement of children in psychiatric institutions devoted specifically to housing them began during the 1950s and became a large-scale phenomenon only in the 1970s. Today, hundreds of thousands of children are imprisoned in psychiatric hospitals, most of them, even to psychiatric authorities, unnecessarily.”[3]

For years CCHR International has exposed the risks to teens and, indeed, all individuals treated in the for-profit psychiatric hospital industry. Right now, there is a federal investigation into several chains of these facilities, including Universal Health Services (UHS), Acadia Healthcare, Vivant (formerly Sequel Youth & Family Services) and the non-profit Agape Boarding School for Boys. CCHR submitted evidence to this investigation. Increased inspections of psychiatric hospitals in the United Kingdom owned by UHS and Acadia are also ongoing. In 2016, CCHR International filed a slew of complaints against them in the UK, calling for greater oversight.

CCHR raises concerns about psychiatric industry abuse and deaths and herein cites but a small sample of media reports in recent months.

  • A wrongful death lawsuit was filed against an Alabama youth residential facility, alleging physical and sexual abuse which led 15-year-old Connor Bennett to commit suicide. The teen lived at Brighter Path Tuskegee (formerly Sequel TSI Tuskegee) for almost six months before committing suicide in April 2022.[4] Sequel Youth and Family Services rebranded the facility as Brighter Path following numerous reports of abuse and media exposure across the state and country. The lawsuit claims Bennett’s death resulted from the staff’s failure to supervise residents, and staff ignoring numerous complaints of abuse, as well as failing to stop the abuse. Tommy James, the attorney representing Connor’s mother, told the media: “It shouldn’t surprise me based on Sequel’s history and this facility’s history. I got three other cases pending against them right now at that very same facility and several other ones across the state, and other Sequel facilities. And all my clients will testify that these places are living hell.” James pointed out that many states have revoked contracts with Sequel; however, that’s not the case in Alabama. Furthermore, Brighter Path and facilities like it are a part of the “troubled teen industry,” a multibillion-dollar network of for-profit youth residential facilities where widespread abuse and neglect have been revealed.[5]
  • A lawsuit filed against another Sequel facility in Alabama alleged that 16-year-old J.K. was abused by staff and other residents: “An employee pushed her to the ground, got on top of her and put her knees on her back,” said James, who filed the lawsuit. “She was repeatedly kicked in the face and head by other residents” while staff watched and did not intervene. Doctors performed jaw surgery, wiring her mouth shut for two months, during which time she lost 20 pounds.[6]
  • The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice closed the Sequel-owned behavioral facility Charles Britt Academy following the arrest of two employees on child abuse charges. The two men beat a 17-year-old resident after the teen and one of the men exchanged words.[7]
  • NBC News reported Sequel has closed at least 17 facilities in the past five years, following a series of investigations revealing abuse allegations, decrepit living conditions, falsified records, and the high-profile homicide of a child at a Sequel facility in Michigan that the state has since closed.[8]
  • The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Louisville Metro Police launched an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Ja’Ceon Terry, a 7-year-old foster care child who was restrained and killed at Brooklawn psychiatric residential center in Louisville on July 17, 2022. He suffered multiple injuries from the incident, due to positional asphyxia, which caused him to be unable to breathe and rendered him unconscious, according to court records. In September, the medical examiner ruled his death a homicide, finding he had been suffocated. The child “should not have perished on our watch,” according to Brooklawn, who dismissed two staff involved.[9]
  • Anchorage Daily News reported that teenage patients at UHS’s North Star Behavioral Health System in Anchorage, Alaska, a locked, for-profit psychiatric facility, staged a small mutiny and escaped by hitting the fire alarm and fleeing. They roamed Anchorage for hours before being tracked down and returned by police. During two inspections in April and June, federal investigators found dangers to the health and safety of patients, including assaults and the use of locked seclusion rooms.[10] In late September 2022, a family filed a lawsuit against North Star alleging that their 11-year-old boy was sexually abused by another patient within days of being admitted in August 2021. That should have raised alarm bells, but then in September 2022, a 14-year-old also reported being sexually abused by another patient. His parents rushed to discharge him.  “I put him up there for help. And now he’s two times worse than what he was,” his mother said. “I wish I had never sent him there.” Most of Northstar’s patients are kids in the foster care system, though neither of the boys in this story was in state custody.[11] A petition was started on calling for Northstar to be shut down. [12]
  • In 2020, UHS agreed to pay $122 million to settle U.S. Department of Justice allegations that it billed for medically unnecessary behavioral health services. In 2021, the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into whether the state of Alaska “unnecessarily institutionalizes” children with behavioral problems. That investigation remains open. This year, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of children in Alaska’s foster care that were placed at North Star.[13] Anchorage Daily News reported that the lawsuit was filed on behalf of 13 child plaintiffs by a partnership of attorneys, stating: “Alaska’s child welfare system is failing [and] dangerous and routinely violates the rights of children.”[14]
  • One of the many laws CCHR helped get enacted in the 1990s was the prohibition of a practice in which psychiatric facilities paid individuals up to $2,000 in “bounty hunter fees” to capture and refer patients, especially youths, to its hospitals.[15] Today, a similar practice has been exposed, where secure transport companies have “brawny men show up under the cover of darkness and force a teenager into a vehicle, taking them against their will to a boarding school, foster home” or behavioral treatment center. The practice is called “gooning.” Teens that resist are often told, “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.” They can be restrained with handcuffs or zip ties. They could be blindfolded or hooded. “Some of these stories are almost out of a Charles Dickens novel,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, a California legislator who is pushing for federal regulation of the secure transport industry. “[T]here was actually emotional abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse taking place” and kids were being tricked into going there. “What we end up doing is just creating more trauma for these kids.”[16]
  • One company lists fees on its website showing that prices range up to $2,895 plus airfare for two agents and the child; or $300 to $5,000 for kids who are driven to a facility, depending on the distance and other factors, according to an Associated Press newswire.[17]
  • Utah State Senator Mike McKell and Missouri State Representative Keri Ingle plan to introduce legislation next session to regulate the industry in their states. However, federal legislation is being demanded since the children are often transported across state lines. The only state which regulates this industry is Oregon. A law implemented in 2021 prohibits the use of hoods, blindfolds, handcuffs, etc.[18]
  • Agape Boarding School is a behavioral facility in Nevada, Missouri that also enrolls children from other states such as Tennessee and Arizona. It serves about 60 teenage boys, and the school’s former doctor was charged in 2021 with multiple counts of sexual abuse of children. Five staff members were also charged with abuse. The Missouri Attorney General’s office asked a judge in September to shut down Agape, and Missouri Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo asked the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City to do the same. Rep. Vescovo said the abuse uncovered “amounts to organized crime against children.”[19] Nine lawsuits by former students were filed against Agape and its medical director.[20]
  • As of July 8, 2022, the Detroit Behavioral Institute/Capstone Academy, owned by Acadia Healthcare, had its license suspended for at least five years after state health authorities found that children there were mistreated and the facility was unsafe. [21]
  • On September 30, 2022, it was reported that Colorado’s Behavioral Health Administration shut down part of the West Springs (psychiatric) Hospital in Grand Junction over complaints about the quality and safety of the care it gives teenagers and children as young as 7. West Springs is an arm of Mind Springs Health, a long-troubled mental health provider. Mind Springs fired Dr. Frank James, a psychiatrist who had been serving as its latest chief medical officer, for what its employment lawyer described as “rude, insolent, harassing and offensive behavior toward fellow employees.”  Allegations included housing younger children with sometimes violent or predatory patients 10 years their senior and treating children with methods inappropriate for their age and conditions. Mind Springs Health is contracted with the state to serve people who are indigent, on Medicaid, or facing mental health or addiction crises. The organization’s outpatient care has been the subject of numerous complaints about everything from misdiagnoses to mis-prescribing. Several former Mind Springs employees said that the organization had them falsify thousands of patient records in an effort to make its treatment programs seem more effective and secure funding from the state. The Colorado News Collaborative (COLab), a nonprofit involving more than 160 Colorado news outlets, exposed a pattern of “life-threatening prescription errors” at the facility. [22]
  • “Brutal beatings, abuse plague state-run mental health facility, investigation reveals.” This was the headline for an article published on September 3, 2022, about an Illinois mental health facility.[23] A ProPublica investigation found that no one was charged after staff were caught on a 911 tape threatening violence against Alijah Luellen (22), a resident with developmental disabilities at the Choate Mental Health and Developmental Center in Anna, Illinois. At one point the victim said, “I don’t like you.” “I don’t give a shit,” a woman responded. The Illinois State Police launched an investigation. They learned that the call was made as Choate employees attempted to restrain Luellen and in the struggle had accidentally dialed emergency services. Luellen has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition that can cause severe childhood obesity, intellectual disability and behavioral problems. One worker said the order for strapping Luellen to his bed for two hours was made after the patient was “verbally uncooperative” and reached for the shirt of an employee who told him he couldn’t stay up and watch TV after 10 p.m., according to the police report. Hardly threatening! A medical examination after the incident found bruises on his upper body. State police interviewed six mental health technicians and one nurse who were working in the unit that night. Two of the mental health techs who participated in restraining Luellen were trainees; one was fired and the other resigned. Two permanent employees were put on paid administrative leave. None of the permanent employees were fired. The nurse who ordered the restraints left Choate in December 2021 and accepted a new job with the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Between 2015 and 2021, the Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services received 1,180 allegations of abuse and neglect at Choate.[24] At least 26 Choate employees have been arrested on felony charges over the past decade, according to reporting by Capitol News Illinois, Lee Enterprises, and ProPublica.[25]
  • Disability rights groups and CCHR have long exposed the use of electrical skin shocks for “behavioral control” at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), an institution in Massachusetts for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), including teens. A psychologist, Matthew Israel, invented the electrical device. At Harvard in the 1950s, Israel was a student of B. F. Skinner, the founder of behavioral psychology, who invented the Skinner operant conditioning box, initially designed to administer rewards (food) and punishments (electric shocks) to lab animals and later, to humans.[26] In 2010, Manfred Nowak, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, called the JRC practice “torture.” In 2013, Juan E. Mendez, another Special Rapporteur on Torture wrote that JRC students who have been subjected to “electric shock and physical means of restraints have had their rights violated under the U.N. Convention against Torture and other international standards.”[27] Medical and disability leaders have worked for years to ban the use of electric shock devices for behavior modification, and this work continues even today. “This practice is torturous and a violation of basic civil rights. We will continue fighting for justice for JRC’s residents by working with our partners to get a ban into the end-of-year spending package and ensuring every single representative prioritizes the health and safety of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” said Peter Berns, CEO of The Arc, a national community-based organization advocating for people with IDD.[28]
  • In 2020, the FDA banned the device but the JRC challenged this, successfully overturning the ban in 2021. New York legislators then introduced a law targeting any facility that uses electric shocks as behavior modification on people with disabilities. The bill, “Andre’s Law,” was named in honor of Andre McCollins, a survivor of electric shock torture and other forms of aversive conditioning at JRC. The New York state legislature entered recess before the bill could be passed in 2022, but the fight continues. There are efforts being made now to also obtain federal regulations.[29] 
  • In the UK, for a second time, a BBC Panorama program had a reporter enter a psychiatric facility undercover to investigate patient abuse. This time it was Edenfield Centre, which was described as a “toxic culture of humiliation, verbal abuse and bullying.”[30] A UK National Health Services (NHS) trust suspended staff following allegations that patients were mistreated and police began an investigation. Rowan Thompson, 18, died while a patient at the unit in October 2020, followed by Charlie Millers, 17, in December that year, and Ania Sohail, 21, in June last year. [31] The undercover reporter wrote of the experience: “A vulnerable young woman is locked on the other side of a thick glass window, crying like I have never heard anyone cry before. For hours I have been sitting outside the small room, listening to her desperate pleas to be let out. This is the image that haunts me from the three months I spent working undercover for BBC Panorama as a healthcare support worker…. The use of seclusion rooms was the first of many shocks I encountered…. Seclusion is only supposed to be used in extreme cases, for the shortest time necessary, to prevent people harming others. But staff told me one woman had been confined like this for more than a year.” And “I spent hour after hour tasked with observing patients locked in these rooms. Some of them left a huge impression on me. I had perfectly normal conversations with articulate, funny and fiercely intelligent young people who have strong ambitions and desires to better their lives. But instead, these patients are locked away in the formative years of their lives. Not only that, they also told me that Edenfield was actually making them worse.”[32]
  • In 2019, Panorama obtained and aired undercover footage showing staff threatening and taunting patients while boasting about deliberately hurting them at the UHS-owned Cygnet Whorlton Hall psychiatric hospital.  Subsequently, police arrested 10 workers from the hospital in relation to the allegations of “physical and psychological” abuse of patients, which has since closed.[33] The case goes to trial in 2023.

All of this exemplifies the need for a continuing watchdog role such as CCHR’s. It adds evidence to why there should not be any implementation of a recent U.S. Preventive Services Taskforce recommendation that all adolescents ages 12 to 18 be screened for depression (In 2020, there were about 25.1 million children in the United States, aged 12 to 17 years.[34]) This screening is based on subjective questions that previously led to an 84% false positive rate of children being diagnosed and prescribed antidepressants. When treatment failed them, children and adolescents were forced into psychiatric institutions, where they were put at risk of the harm now being exposed in the troubled teen behavioral treatment system. There needs to be a complete review of the industry to safeguard children against forced and unwanted treatments that worsen, not improve their mental health.

The often fierce battle to obtain human rights in the mental health industry reveals the insidiousness and inequity in law that one faces. Thomas Szasz died on September 12, 2012, but 10 years later, the legacy of his work, still driven forward by CCHR, shows an expanding recognition that legislation is needed to protect patients against harm. In his own words: “The task we set ourselves—to combat psychiatric coercion—is important. It is a noble task in the pursuit of which we must, regardless of obstacles, persevere. Our conscience commands that we do no less.”[35] 

This is why CCHR exists—its watchdog role is imperative.




[4] “Lawsuit filed over teen’s death at Tuskegee youth facility,” WSFA 12 News, 31 Aug. 2022,

[5] “Lawsuit filed over teen’s death at Tuskegee youth facility,” WSFA 12 News, 31 Aug. 2022,

[6] Carol Robinson, “‘They put her through hell’: Teen called 911 to escape Alabama psychiatric center abuse, lawsuit states,”, 1 June 2022,

[7] Mary Claire Molloy, “State closes St. Pete treatment facility for boys amid child abuse allegations,” Tampa Bay Times, 24 June 2022,

[8] Tyler Kingkade, “Senators launch investigation into child abuse allegations at treatment facilities,” NBC News, 22 July 2022,

[9] “Ja’Ceon Terry suffocated to death: What took place? Full Explanation here,” Current News Corner, 20 Sept. 2022,; Christopher Leach, “Foster care facility sued after coroner says Kentucky boy’s death at facility was homicide,” Lexington Herald Leader, 20 Sept. 2022,

[10] Michelle Theriault Boots, “Federal inspectors fault assaults, escapes, improper use of locked seclusion at North Star youth psychiatric hospital,”Anchorage Daily News, 28 Sept. 2022,; Christopher Leach, “Foster care facility sued after coroner says Kentucky boy’s death at facility was homicide,” Lexington Herald Leader, 20 Sept. 2022,

[11] Michelle Theriault Boots, “Alaska families say their children were sexually abused at North Star psychiatric hospital,” Anchorage Daily News,


[13] Michelle Theriault Boots, “Federal inspectors fault assaults, escapes, improper use of locked seclusion at North Star youth psychiatric hospital,”Anchorage Daily News, 28 Sept. 2022,

[14] Michelle Theriault Boots, “Class-action lawsuit calls for major reform in Alaska’s ‘failing, dangerous’ foster care system,” Anchorage Daily News, 19 May 2022,


[16] Jim Salter, “Rules sought for ‘gooning,’ taking troubled kids to care,” AP News, 27 Sept. 2022,

[17] Jim Salter, “Rules sought for ‘gooning,’ taking troubled kids to care,” AP News, 27 Sept. 2022,

[18] Jim Salter, “Rules sought for ‘gooning,’ taking troubled kids to care,” AP News, 27 Sept. 2022,

[19] Jim Salter, “Missouri House speaker urges federal investigators to shut down Agape school,” NBC 5 News, 26 Sept. 2022,

[20] Michael Van Schoik, “9 more lawsuits filed against Agape Boarding School in Cedar County, Mo.,”, 8 Apr. 2022,

[21] Erin Einhorn, “The state took children from their parents — then failed to give them a ‘real’ education,” NBC News, 11 July 2022,

[22] Susan Greene, “Concerns about kids’ safety at Grand Junction psychiatric hospital prompt state actions,” The Durango Herald, 30 Sept. 2022,

[23] Beth Hundsdorfer, “Brutal beatings, abuse plague state-run mental health facility, investigation reveals,” Chicago Sun-Times, 3 Sept. 2022,

[24] Beth Hundsdorfer and Molly Parker, “Chilling Audio Provides Rare Glimpse Into Abuse at Troubled Illinois Residential Facility,” ProPublica, 10 Oct. 2022,

[25] Molly Parker, “Culture of cruelty persists at state-run mental health facility despite decades of warnings,” Chicago Sun-Times, 3 Sept. 2022,

[26]; Matthew Battles, “Shock treatment,”, 23 Mar. 2008,


[28] Susan Stonecypher-Hawkins “Congress Fails to Block Use of Shock on Residents with Disabilities at Judge Rotenberg Center,” The Arc, 28 Sept. 2022,

[29] “ASAN Applauds the House for Passing a Bill To #StopTheShock,” Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), 13 June 2022,

[30] “The Edenfield Centre: MP criticises mental health unit bosses over abuse,” BBC News, 30 Sept. 2022,

[31] John Scheerhout and Neal Keeling, “NHS trust suspends staff after alleged mistreatment of patients in mental health unit,” Manchester Evening News, 16 Sept. 2022,

[32] Alan Haslam, “I went undercover to expose abuse at a mental health hospital,” BBC News, 29 Sept. 2022,

[33]; Alex Matthews-King, “Whorlton Hall investigation: 10 arrested over care home ‘abuse’ of patients with learning disabilities,” The Independent, 24 May 2019,