Provo Canyon School

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Current status Open | }} Capacity | }} 248 | }}
Checked May 25, 2012 | }} Opened | }} 1971 | }} | }} Closed | }} | }}

Provo Canyon School (PCS) is a behavior modification facility for teenagers with two campuses in Utah. The boys' campus is in Provo and the girls' campus is in Orem. It is owned and operated as a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc..

They can detain 248 teenagers on their two campuses and according to their NATSAP record the average stay is 9 to 12 months <Ref>NATSAP page</Ref>.

They have opened a program called Sommerset targeted at younger children aged between 10 and 14.

Institutional history[redigér]

Provo Canyon School was founded in 1971 at the mouth of Provo Canyon, by Robert H. Crist and Jack Williams <Ref>About us on their homepage</Ref>. According to its marketing department its primary purpose was educating teenage boys whose problems are so severe that their treatment and education require a restricted, therapeutic environment. Provo Canyon School currently focuses on rehabilitation of adolescents, girls and boys, with personality disorders and behavioral disorders according to their parents, but also accepts adolescents for drug rehabilitation and treatment of other social dysfunctions.

Program structure[redigér]


In current practice, soon after a child is admitted the treatment team completes a series of assessments that may include psychiatric, psychological and/or academic assessments. When teenagers arrive, they are placed in sweat clothes for orientation, and are searched for potential contraband. The detained teenagers can then begin to earn the right to wear "normal" clothes again. This is seen as the first step to breaking down the adolescent's barriers to effective treatment. They can earn more privileges as they progress with treatment, eventually being elevated to a status where they live in a hotel off-campus for the purpose of re-integrating with society.

Treatment approach according to the facility[redigér]

Provo Canyon School combines an academic program with individual, group therapy, family therapy and experiential therapy. Treatment teams for each detained teenager include staff therapists, counselors, doctors, and teachers. According to the school's promotional materials, most of the faculty are certified in Special Education. Treatments may include anger management, sexual issues/trauma resolution, impulse control, stress management, assertiveness training, substance abuse groups and additional recreational therapy <Ref>About therapy on their homepage</Ref>.

Provo Canyon School's philosophy stresses that "youth must take responsibility for their actions or inactions," extending from "cleanliness and order of personal belongings to daily interactions with staff and peers" <Ref>Program overview on their homepage</Ref>.

The school has specialized programs for substance abuse and addiction problems, an Early Adolescent Program for boys ages twelve to fourteen with ADD-ADHD.

Whereas in the past isolation from family was enforced, the facility now explicitly encourages family visits and helps organize family support groups <Ref>About visitation and families on their homepage</Ref>. However, testimonies by recent detained teenagers suggest that the facility's practices have not changed substantially and still include drastic physical and psychological measures.


The school's methods are considered to be a "tough love" approach: enrollees are challenged to acknowledge self destructive behaviors and grow beyond them, and this process may require constant supervision and intervention.

The "behavior modification program" used by Provo Canyon School in the past included physical restraint, physical punishment, isolation from the outside world, progressive restoration of liberty, lie detectors, monitoring of personal communication and administration of drugs. However, a 1979 permanent court injunction specifically prohibited the Provo Canyon School and Crist from:

  • "(1) opening, reading, monitoring or censoring the boys' mail;
  • (2) administering polygraph examinations for any purpose whatsoever;
  • (3) placing boys in isolation facilities for any reason other than to contain a boy who is physically violent; and
  • (4) using physical force for any purpose other than to restrain a juvenile who is either physically violent and immediately dangerous to himself or others or physically resisting institutional rules." <Ref>List over Provo cases from HEAL-online</Ref>.


Provo Canyon School is a member of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs and is accredited by the Northwest Association of Accredited Schools and the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. However, the school's credentials have been called into question by a number of lawsuits.

Success rates, lawsuits and survivor groups[redigér]

Provo Canyon claims a high success rate with behavioral problems "where all else failed." A number of graduates and their families report it helped them. However, a number of Provo Canyon survivors feel they have voiced complaints of inhumane treatment, including physical and psychological abuse.

Several individual and class-action lawsuits were filed against the school during the 1980s and 1990s, alleging abuse, violation of the detained teenagers' First Amendment rights, false imprisonment, invasion of privacy, medical negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, loss of parental consortium, and battery <Ref>List over Provo cases from HEAL-online</Ref>. Some suits were dismissed due to the statute of limitation (four years), but in at least three cases Provo Canyon School was judged to have fraud, medical negligence, false imprisonment, breach of fiduciary duty, and gross negligence (Taylor v. Provo Canyon School), of cruel and unusual punishment, antitherapeutic and inhumane treatment, and denial of due process of law (Milonas and Rice v. Provo Canyon School). Several other suits are pending <Ref>Tread about Lawsuits</Ref>.

Human Earth Animal Liberation (HEAL) , a network with office in Washington state, is currently petitioning the Joint Commission of Health Care Organizations, Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, Utah Department of Human Services to close Provo Canyon School. They have collected over supporting 700 signatures, largely of but not limited to Provo Canyon School survivors and their families <Ref>Petition to close the facility</Ref>.

A number of teenagers formerly detained at the facility consider themselves psychiatric survivors of abuse and have organized online support groups such as "Survivors of PCS" <Ref>Survivors of PCS</Ref>. There are several related groups and movements monitoring such "youth residential programs."

Celebrity alumni[redigér]

In the News[redigér]

  • In the 1980s and 90s, it was found guilty in several cases (Mundy v. Charter Medical Corporation dba Provo Canyon School, Milonas and Rice v. Provo Canyon School, Taylor v. Provo Canyon School), leading to the eventual closing of the facility's parent company, Charter Medical Corporation (not to be confused with Charter Medical, a pharmaceutical company). Co-founder Crist, who was a defendant in the above cases, continues to be its medical director.
  • A 15 year old girl was sent to Provo Canyon School as entertainment on a Dr. Phil show <Ref>Afraid of my childs behavior, Dr. Phil show</Ref>.

External Links[redigér]

Info pages[redigér]

Survivor groups[redigér]

Message boards[redigér]