Pillars of Hope

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Pillars of hope is a behavior modification facility located on located on La Ceiba Cascajal, 2km East from Abopac, Orotina, province of Alajuela, Costa Rica [1]. It was formerly known as Academy at Dundee Ranch.

The history of Academy at Dundee Ranch

Dundee Ranch was promoted as a residential school, offering a program of behavior modification, motivational "emotional growth seminars," a progressive academic curriculum, and a structured daily schedule, for teenagers struggling in their homes, schools, or communities [2]

The facility was and still is associated with World Wide Association of Specialty Programs and Schools (WWASP).

In May 2003, the facility was shut down by the authorities in Costa Rica due to claims of child abuse, and investigated the school and its managers. The facility reopened in 2004 as Pillars of Hope.

Controversy

There were claims from both parents and detainees about food being withheld as punishment [3].

Former students complain of emotional scars due to their stay there [4].

A judgment in Louisiana caused Costa Rican authorities to investigate the facilities [5]. A riot occurred at the facility in May 2003 [6] [7] [8], , leading to its closure.

Due to the closure U.S. Representative George Miller asked U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to investigate WWASP [9].

Narvin Lichfield, who was the director at the time of the facility's closure, was jailed in Costa Rica for a brief period at the time of the closure. He was scheduled to go to trial for abuse in Costa Rica on September 26-29, 2006. A prosecutor was quoted in The Tico Times as saying that Lichfield could be sentenced to at least 10 years in prison if convicted on all accounts. February 26, 2007 was Narvin Lichfield declared innocent of ordering the abuse. The judges believed that the children were abused, but they could not prove that Lichfield ordered it [10]..

Three other Academy employees, all Jamaicans, were reportedly wanted in connection with the case, but they fled Costa Rica following the closure of the Academy [11].

On February 22, 2007, Narvin Lichfield was acquitted of all charges. In a rare twist of events, the head prosecutor, Edgar Oviedo, admitted that there was no evidence against Lichfield. Lichfield went on to state that when the school was raided, "Parents and staff were held at gunpoint while the Costa Rican prosecutor told the students that school rules no longer applied." and "One parent had a gun held to her head and was ordered to hang up the phone as she attempted to call the U.S. Embassy for help." [12].

Costa Rica's Diario Extra reported that the charges were the result of overzealous journalists who printed unsubstantiated allegations made by unreliable sources [13].

Today - Pillars of Hope

A new program, Pillars of Hope, opened on the same site in 2004.

The main target group for Pillars of Hope is young adults age 18 and over, including enrollees from other WWASPS programs who would turn 18 before they graduate. As an alternative to an "Exit Plan" parents and staff can pressure the enrollee to apply for a stay at this facility [14].

Although they still have a very strict conduct code for the persons enrolled in the facility they no longer use punishment like observation placement, where the detainees were forced to sit on their knees with their hands behind their backs for hours [15]. Instead the persons staying at the facility can be expelled.

The facility states that the student life is quite different than in the other WWASP affiliated program. Even interacting with the other sex is allowed, which is very uncommon. However regardless of the facts that the persons in the program are over 18 and legally adults, they still need parental approval for chaperoned dating [16]. But according to former students that is not the case. Some of the courses offered on the webpage are non-existing [17].

According to statements made on Anti-wwasp the facility had fired the leading staff and as result of that, there should be only about 10 students left on the facility [18].

References

External Links

Info pages

Survivor groups

Message boards