Dissertation Abstracts

Social Stratification, Rehabilitation and the “Troubled Teen” Industry

Author: Mooney, Heather E, heather.mooney@wayne.edu
Department: Sociology
University: Wayne State University, USA
Supervisor: Dr. Krista Brumley
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Areas of Research: Deviance and Social Control , Stratification , Family Research


While low income and students of color disproportionately get caught in the school to prison pipeline, higher income and majority white students are funneled into the privatized and unregulated “troubled teen” industry. This industry loosely consists of various total institutions for reform like therapeutic boarding schools, boot camps, wilderness therapy programs and last chance ranches. Interestingly with a clear legacy of sending our children away for centuries, a vast gap remains in research, even in establishing what constitutes residential treatment and other programs in the troubled teen industry let alone how these facilities have performed over time (Friedman et al. 2006, Lee 2008, GAO Report 2007, Leichtman 2006, Szalavitz 2006, Wagner 2008). Remarkably even the US Government Accountability Office’s report on this topic in 2007 found it too challenging to get a clear picture of the overall scope of the “troubled teen” industry.

I plan to explore former middle to upper class at risk youth’s experiences of the privatized “troubled teen” industry, impacts in social stratification and mobility, uncovering the meaning and identities formed by these “rehabilitated” adults. Through a case study of a New England therapeutic boarding school, life stories will be collected from a purposeful sample of students representing the first 10 Peer Groups (i.e. cohorts) that successfully graduated from the 14 month program. The results of which will ideally shed light into understanding “at risk youths” conceptualization of their deviance, experience with exile into a total institution and most importantly their process and understanding of rehabilitation.

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