Troubled affluent youth’s experiences in a therapeutic boarding school: The elite arm of the youth control complex and its implications for youth justice

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Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology

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Critical Criminology


Criminology focuses on street crime and crimes of the poor. Surveys, however, indicate that deviance among middle- and upper-class youth is widespread, and that their experience of social control is not researched, despite its importance for a more complete understanding of youth justice. This study provides insight into a mostly unregulated private troubled teen industry, relying on interviews and a survey of affluent youth sent to a therapeutic boarding school. The main sections of this article explore the wide variety of behaviors that caused youth to be sent to the program, the key aspects of their experiences, and the very mixed outcomes. (All participants graduated high school and most completed college, but many others committed suicide or overdosed.) While a degree and the lack of a criminal record ultimately benefited these privileged youth, the strong-arm rehabilitation tactics of this kind of total institution are a problematic model to use to advance youth justice.

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