The Guardian (London)

November 16, 1998

SECTION: The Guardian Foreign Page; Pg. 15

LENGTH: 706 words


HEADLINE: Americans 'tortured children' in Czech home
for teenagers


BYLINE: KATE CONNOLLY IN BRNO


AN American couple who ran a youth correction
centre in the Czech Republic have been charged with
torturing and illegally imprisoning the 57 children
in their care.

Allegations of physical and psychological
ill-treatment at the Morava Academy, just outside the southern
city of Brno, were made by former employees and led
to a month-long police investigation.

Glenda and Steven Roach, aged 41 and 52, both former
police officers from St George in Utah, were
arrested last week, along with two Czech colleagues,
Brno police said. If found guilty, they face between
two and eight years in prison.

Pupils of the academy - mainly Americans - have been
questioned by police. The 15- to 18-year-olds,
described as "troubled teenagers" by the academy
management, have told of abuse, including being
placed in solitary confinement for weeks, being
handcuffed and tied up, and forced to lie on the floor all
day. Some pupils allegedly had to defecate on the
floor because their toilet visits were restricted by staff.

"These children were sent here by their legal
guardians and held against their will," said Petr Netik, head
of the Brno police organised crime unit. "They were
given no psychological or medical help during their
stay."

He said he would contact the FBI about the
possibility of prosecuting parents who may have broken the
law in the United States by forcing their children
into the academy.

Morava Academy, a former hotel surrounded by a forest
and a lake, is run by the Utah-based company
Worldwide Association of Specialty Programs. The
institution, which opened in January, is part of an
international chain of "teenage help" schemes. It
charges $ 1,790 ( pounds 1,070) per pupil per month.

Police are also investigating claims of financial
impropriety under which children were deprived of pocket
money.

"They were supposed to receive $ 80 a month, but were
given 120 Czech crowns ( pounds 2.40) and
told that was the correct conversion," Mr Netik said.

A 34-year-old teacher, Hana Simonova, was sacked from
the academy last month after reporting her
concerns to the Prague-based child protection agency,
White Circle.

She talked of children being locked in padded rooms
with whitewashed windows and of one girl being
fed sandwiches for two months as a punishment for bad
behaviour.

She also said that unruly children were threatened
with the school's guard dog. "We had a menu of
punishments to give out for various 'crimes'," she
said.

"And for every thing a child did wrong there was a
financial penalty attached to the parents' bill at the end
of the month, plus the restriction of privileges for
the children," she added.

Penalties started at 30p for forgetting a schoolbook.
Pupils misbehaving in class would be sat upon by
staff.

But parents who have been arriving from all over the
US to collect their children defended the Roaches.

"They are totally on our side in our efforts to give
structure to our kids' lives," said Gita from Los Angeles,
who has a 15-year-old daughter at Morava. "We sent
our kids here to live in a healthy environment and
to learn self -love. We have made great efforts to
send them here, remortgaging our houses and giving up
our pension plans."

Jo Ellen from Anchorage, Alaska, said her 17-year-old
daughter had been placed in solitary confinement,
but she had "requested to go there to sort herself
out".

The mothers said their children's behaviour had
undergone "miraculous" transformations thanks to the
academy's "structured and loving" programme.

One of the children, James from San Francisco, said
last week: "This place changed my life overnight. For
the first time in my life I have a sense of
self-worth and I'm going to be really sad when they close it
down."

A third of the children have been sent home and some
are being cared for by Brno social services.

The Roaches, a Mormon couple, have returned to the
academy after being given bail.

Karr Farnsworth, the president of the Worldwide
Association of Specialty Programs, said in Brno:
"Obviously our rules and the laws of the Czech
Republic are incompatible and as long as our programme is not welcomed here
we will be forced to move elsewhere."

 

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