Academy at Swift River

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Current status Open
Detainees.gif Capacity 120
Checked July 21, 2013
Open.gif Opened 1997
Close.gif Closed 2013 [1]

Academy at Swift River was a behavior modification facility located in a remote area near Cummington, Massachusetts [2].

It was established in 1997 and is a part of Aspen Education Group.

The detainees were children who are placed by their parents.

An average stay took between 16 and 19 months [3].

The facility was not approved by the Department of Social Services in Massachusetts [4].

The management announced that the faciity would close summer 2013 [1]

Program description

The policy of the facility didn't allow the parents to use a Youth transport firm for transport the detainee all the way to school. Instead the transport firm must hand the detainee over to the parents just outside the campus of the facility. Then the parents have to drag the detainee the last way onto the campus. The staff are told not to trust the children [5].

Level system

The facility uses a level system. Before 2003 the new detainees had to undergo an outdoor transition phase called "Base Camp", but had been moved indoor [6]. The new intake program is called "Pathway" [7].

The final phase was called "Rio Rapido", which included a harsh trip to Costa Rica, but these journeys has been abandoned.

The school was also known to use the Lifestep program [8], which are consider to be close to brainwash by former detainees. Currently, each detainee must undergo at least on Life Phase seminar. The students must participate in a 10 hour group session, with a 15 minute break for a lunch of peanut butter and jelly.

Investigation done by Department of Social Service investigator Erik Lieberman showed that during the first LifeStep session called "The Truth" - the detainees were denied sleep for 19 or 20 hours. Staff and detainees might stay up all night, then break for a nap between 5 and 7 a.m., then continue the session until 2 the next afternoon.

The Lifestep system were since abandoned and they are now working on a more evidenced based clinical model [9].


When a detainee breaks the rules they are put on a restriction. A restriction is either a reflection, challenge or a self-study. They have to write assignments on their own and work around the school [10].

These self studies also consist of restitutions, formally called work projects, where the staff have certain random physical labor tasks that the school grounds needs done and the students in trouble do them.

A former employee observed how a girl was forced to clean a staircase with a toothbrush. A boy who had broken his collarbone was forced to move heavy cans and jars and wipe down shelves in the kitchen as punishment for a trifling infraction [11].


The facility operates under the approval of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Education through the Mohawk Trails Regional School District, and is seeking accreditation through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Living conditions

There are two dorms for boys and two for girls. Each dorm has 3 to 7 detainees. The girls are forced to walk outside to get to their dorms no matter what the weather.


There are support groups for several of the prisoners of conscience detained at the facility [12][13]

News, articles, statements

The book "What It Takes To Pull Me Through" (ISBN-10: 0618145451) by David L. Marcus, which today is regarded as marketing for the industry is portraying children during a 14 months stay at the facility.

While substance abusers are detained there, they often manage to stay clean, because the isolated location of the facility makes it impossible to buy drugs. However, when they return home, there is a huge risk of failure because the basic in the treatment is isolation. On example is Shane Reardon son of ex-pitcher Jeff Reardon, who died when the treatment ended [14].

In order to preserve a positive result from an alcohol treatment done at another Aspen program - SUWS of Carolina, Sherrie Cooke one of the stars in the show Britain’s Youngest Boozers aggreed to be detained at the facility, so she could participate in the TV-show Tonight with Trevor McDonald [15].

External links

Info pages

Survivor group

Message boards