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Bad Boys, Bad Boys

Whatcha gonna do? Let a private company try to handle your juvenile delinquents?

Danny Stewart was no choirboy. "He had so many problems," says his mother, Nancy Stewart. The eighteen-year-old Littleton boy was addicted to drugs and had a long list of petty crimes. Danny was polite and quiet. But he was a crook--and not very good at it.

"It seems like he got caught at everything he ever did wrong," his mother says. Even minor misdeeds: She remembers a time when he was cold and swiped a hat from a friend. The friend turned him in and he got in trouble for that, too.

After a burglary and a parole violation, Danny was sent to a state juvenile facility. From there he went to Adventures in Change, a group home in Sheridan run by Rebound, a for-profit, Denver-based company that operates a sizable share of the state's privatized juvenile-corrections facilities.

After four months of treating Stewart with counseling and group therapy at the home in 1995, Rebound officials asked their new psychologist, John Dicke, to examine the boy. Dicke says Rebound officials made it clear to him that they wanted a favorable evaluation because Danny Stewart was out of state funding.

Stewart's court sentence to treatment by Rebound had run out, and the company would not be receiving more money from the state to treat him--whether or not the treatment had so far been successful. Any further treatment would have to be picked up by Rebound. Dicke says he was told that a positive report on Stewart's treatment would reflect well on the company.

That put Dicke in a bind. "I talked to the kid," he says, "and it was clear he had received no treatment. None."

Dicke says he tried to figure out some way to get Rebound to persuade the state to keep Stewart at Adventures in Change on the grounds that he was still a danger to himself and to society. He says he was overruled by Rebound officials.

Rebound did not tell the state or Stewart's family about his assessment, Dicke says. Nancy Stewart remembers sitting in a meeting about her son when his time at the facility was about to end. Her son talked, and his parole officer said a few hopeful things, but the representative from Rebound, she says, uttered not a word.

She wasn't expecting much. Danny had been through a stint at Charter Hospital, where the family's insurance paid the bills, and nothing had happened there, either.

"All that so-called treatment was a total farce," says his mother, who, incidentally, thinks that if the treatment had been based on the Bible, her son might have come out better.

A few weeks after his release from the Rebound facility, Danny Stewart was caught shoplifting at Southwest Plaza. After Stewart tried to bolt, a security officer cuffed his hands and legs as the two of them sat in the security office in the back of the mall's Sears store.

While the guard was preparing to call the young man's mother, Stewart reached down with his cuffed hands to a handgun he had stolen from a friend. Stewart contorted his body so that his forehead faced the barrel of the gun. He pulled the trigger.

Danny Stewart spent a week in a coma before dying.
Many of the details of Stewart's short life have started to slip away from his mother these days--she says it's her way of dealing with the pain. "Now the main thing I remember," she says, "is his sweet smile."

Dicke and other former Rebound employees remember more than that. They say there are dozens of instances in which the company has mishandled the cases of juvenile delinquents such as Danny Stewart. A host of current and former Rebound workers say the company often puts profits ahead of the welfare of its clients and staff. They say corners are cut, staff turnover is high, and problems are hidden from the probing eyes of auditors and outside authorities. The ex-workers say Rebound preaches accountability but doesn't practice it.

Rebound officials contend that Stewart's was an "individual case" and can't be blamed on the company, but they decline to comment specifically, citing confidentiality rules. Rebound's top brass, who have had to fend off complaints from officials in several states, have aggressively defended their overall performance with the help of high-powered lobbyists and have attacked their critics as either disgruntled, biased or jealous. They insist that they do a better job than the state for juveniles and at a lower cost to taxpayers. "We've had some problems, but I also think we do some things exceedingly well," says Jane O'Shaughnessy, Rebound's chief executive officer.

Critics say the only thing the company does well is extract taxpayer money for itself--about $15 million annually in contracts with Colorado and other states.

Loren Warboys, the director of the Youth Law Center based in San Francisco, says he has been monitoring Rebound for years, but because it is a private company, it's not held as accountable as publicly run institutions are. "There is a growing concern because of the states' reliance on private firms, because they are almost entirely unregulated," he says. "If you rely totally on the professionalism and goodwill of the operator, you're going to end up with people who are neither professional nor have goodwill."

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