This section will review and summarize the Stanford Prison Experiment which can be found and show the similarities between the environments and setting of the Stanford prison experiments and "troubled teen" residential programs.

Phillip Zambardo ran an experiment in the 1970's to show how complete power effects humans. "How could intelligent, mentally healthy, "ordinary" men become perpetrators of evil so quickly? These were questions we were forced to ask." He had many college students apply to an ad  which was put in the paper. Once students responded they were psychologically tested and once deemed mentally and physically stable they were given either the role of guard or prisoner and sent home. Candidates with psychological problems, medical disabilities, or a history of crime or drug abuse were eliminated.

In Phillip Zimbardos experiment he screened participants  to make sure they were mentally stable in order to fully understand the impacts that control would have on society at large. That is one large difference between the experiments and programs is that MOST youth  attending programs have some sort psychological problems, medical disabilities, and or a history of crime or drug abuse which is what brought them there in the first place which would make effects more drastic.


Phillip Zimbardo then went ahead and setup his mock jail.

"Our prison was constructed by boarding up each end of a corridor in the basement of Stanford's Psychology Department building. On the side of the corridor opposite the cells was a small closet which became "The Hole," or solitary confinement. It was dark and very confining, about two feet wide and two feet deep, but tall enough that a "bad prisoner" could stand up." 

Although programs are larger than usually just a basement or corridor many programs regularly have youth sit in one room for  the majority of the program. A lot of programs are monitored by camera's which at times may even be in bathrooms.  Programs often have isolation rooms or timeout rooms. In these rooms youth usually have no access to a bathroom and are often denied medical and food and water while in these rooms. More often than not the rooms have no heat and are just concrete slabs. In some cases children are even kept in what are considered dog cages.

"An intercom system allowed us to secretly bug the cells to monitor what the prisoners discussed, and also to make public announcements to the prisoners. There were no windows or clocks to judge the passage of time, which later resulted in some time-distorting experiences."

In programs students are usually monitored directly by staff at all times which allows them to monitor what is discussed. In many programs talking is simply not allowed inless it is for theraputic purposes. Many times when students are allowed to have communication with parents staff is present or the phones are bugged in order to monitor what is being said and to prevent youth from telling parents what is going on.  Many children in programs start to loss track of time because many programs allow nothing that says the date or time. Programs may have windows but since sleep deprivation and sleep patterns are disturbed it is often diffucult to judge passage of time and many time time distorting is experience. Many youth who leave programs often can not remember the dates they were in treatment (sometimes up to years off).


After the prison was setup the experiment officially started:


To begin "In the Standford Prison experiment individuals who were "prisoners" in the experiment where picked up by police without warning and the "prisoners" where often confused."

Youth usually end up in these programs by what are called "escort services". These are people who will comes to the teens house usually at early hours of the morning and will grab the child from their room and remove them from there house. Teens often have no contact with their parents so children frequently feel as if they are being kidnapped. There are other situations where parents authorize escorts to go find the children and are given permission when they see the child to take them. Reports say that children have been  handcuffed, duct tape, rolled in a blanket so they can not fight back and led around by leashed and belts when with escorts. There are some instances where children and blindfolded and have no idea where they are going. Being grabbed by random people and thrown in unmarked vechiles often leaves youth feeling confused.


" The car arrived at the station, the suspect was brought inside, formally booked, again warned of his Miranda rights, finger printed, and a complete identification was made. The suspect was then taken to a holding cell where he was left blindfolded to ponder his fate and wonder what he had done to get himself into this mess."

When the car arrives at the facility the escort or guardian who brought the child to the program instructs the child to get out of the car and to walk through the front doors. If brought by an escort there is still usually physical contact between the student and escort until inside the facility. All programs are different but students are usually warned about some of the obvious rules of the program such as not being allowed to leave and how they must listen to everything to program tells them in order to see their famalies again. Again all programs are different in some programs children are left isolated for the first few days without any contact from the outside world or with other participants in the program and other times youth are thrown directly into the program and expected to start participating in the program or "working the program" . Youth in these program are usually never told why they are sent to them because part of the process of going to a program is to figure out why you are there adn to come clean with everything you have ever done ( that is how you show you are getting better). Youth often are confused and often wonder what they have done to be sent hundred of miles away from home without there family.


"Each prisoner was systematically searched and stripped naked. A degradation procedure was designed in part to humiliate prisoners and in part to be sure they weren't bringing in any germs to contaminate our jail."

Every program has some sort of search to make sure that contraband items are not being brought in to the facility. These searches often invovle many more people than are necessary, can involve members of the opposite staff and at times may even involve other partcipants of the program. The degree to which a program does a search of students differs with some requiring you to empty out pockets and a quick check to programs who do complete cavity searches. Many children  may be called out or made fun of by the staff for being put in a program adn many program try to convince children that there parents no longer love them.


" The prisoner was then issued a uniform. The main part of this uniform was a dress, or smock, which each prisoner wore at all times with no underclothes. On the smock, in front and in back, was his prison ID number. On each prisoner's right ankle was a heavy chain, bolted on and worn at all times. Rubber sandals were the footwear, and each prisoner covered his hair with a stocking cap made from a woman's nylon stocking. The chain on their foot, which also is uncommon in most prisons, was used in order to remind prisoners of the oppressiveness of their environment."

Programs work hard to remind youth of the oppressive environment they are in and to break individuality. In some programs youth are forced to wear uniforms, since program participants can stay in programs for up to five years at a time this is extremely repressive. There are some programs that are known to embarass children by forcing them to wear diapers  or have boys wear bright pink swear suits. Additionally, many programs are also known to give paticipants numbers and to ID a child with there number other than their name. In many programs children are not given proper footwear even in wilderness programs the gear provided is often inappropriate.  In residential programs children are often forced to wear rubber sandals for the idea that it will make it harder for youth to run away. Not in all programs but in some especially bootcamps male and female participants are forcded to shave their heads. Some other programs also make children shave there heads.

 "The guards were given no specific training on how to be guards. Instead they were free, within limits, to do whatever they thought was necessary to maintain law and order in the prison and to command the respect of the prisoners. The guards made up their own set of rules.They were warned, however, of the potential seriousness of their mission and of the possible dangers in the situation they were about to enter, as, of course, are real guards who voluntarily take such a dangerous job."

As the guards in Zimbardos experiment had no training the staff who work at these programs often have no special training even when they are working with youth who are detoxing off drugs, have behaviorial issues and in some very serious cases may even be suicidal. Most programs only require the staff to have a high school diploma which resulted in most of the staff who work directly with the students are college students. With the staff being college students they are the same age as guards in Zimbardos experiment. Staff may be trained by the program which usually includes a day of training but often that is not enough because staff are incharge or restraining youth. In some programs their have been reports that staff are not able to notice medical emergencies such as dehydration and heatstroke. Often due to the lack of training when children complain to staff about things they are said to be faking it or being manipulatinve.  Even though staff have no training they are left to run the units alone using what necessary to maintain law and order. In alot of programs looking the wrong way or crying are seen as out of control behaviors so in those situations staff use force to "maintain order."


"The cells were so small that there was room for only three cots on which the prisoners slept or sat, with room for little else. At 2:30 A.M. the prisoners were rudely awakened from sleep by blasting whistles for the first of many "counts." The counts served the purpose of familiarizing the prisoners with their numbers (counts took place several times each shift and often at night). But more importantly, these events provided a regular occasion for the guards to exercise control over the prisoners"

Children do not sleep in cells in most programs but there are reports of 15 children sharing one room or in some programs the children did not have beds and just slept on floors or mats on the ground.  Althought they do not live or sleep in cells there are programs for teens that lock children in there rooms at night Just as the prisoners were awakened often so are the youth in these programs. Depending on the program staff may wake children up all night long which is a form of sleep deprivation. In other programs staff may make children sleep in rooms where the lights stay on or where they go around to rooms on a regular basis and shine lights in childrens faces which also disrupted sleep.


"Push-ups were a common form of physical punishment imposed by the guards to punish infractions of the rules or displays of improper attitudes toward the guards or institution. The guards also stepped on the prisoners' backs while they did push-ups, or made other prisoners sit or step on the backs of fellow prisoners doing their push-ups."

Programs use physical punishments just as the Standford Prison Experiment did. In many programs the above discription is accurate with children being forced to pushups while staff would put their feet on the back of youth or sit on them. Other programs have been known to actually spank children with paddles and others have been known to use pepper spray when a child displays an improper attitude towards staff or the program.  Other than using physical punishment most programs have isolation rooms which staff also use often when youth are said to showing a negative attitude towards the program.



"The prisoners removed their stocking caps, ripped off their numbers, and barricaded themselves inside the cells by putting their beds against the door. The guards were very much angered and frustrated because the prisoners also began to taunt and curse them. When the morning shift of guards came on, they became upset at the night shift who, they felt, must have been too lenient. The three guards who were waiting on stand-by call at home came in and the night shift of guards voluntarily remained on duty to bolster the morning shift. The guards broke into each cell, stripped the prisoners naked, took the beds out, forced the ringleaders of the prisoner rebellion into solitary confinement, and generally began to harass and intimidate the prisoners. What to do about the riot? It's obvious that our prison budget could not support such a ratio of staff to inmates. So what were they going to do? One of the guards came up a solution. "Let's use psychological tactics instead of physical ones." Psychological tactics amounted to setting up a privilege cell. The effect was to break the solidarity among prisoners."

Programs often have youth who refuse to follow the rules sometimes small and sometime big. Students at times will refuse to follow any directions in the progams such as where to attend or to get out of bed. Alot of programs are split in to units and when an individual child acts out or a whole unit acts out in both situations the whole unit is punished which helps to break the solidarity of the group and the individual who will not conform. Staff will frequently use the same tactics that the guards use such as the use of solitary confinement and punishing ring leaders more harshly than others who act out. Additionally, staff will take beds away and humilate students in other ways when a child is seeing as misbehaving,

Like with the Stanford Prison Experiment staff at programs are sometimes accused of being to nice to students. When a staff is accused of being to nice they are often asked to leave the programs.

When their are revolts in the programs staff at programs have the same issue the Standford Prison guards had to deal with in regards to staff patient ratios. Often times in program their may only be 2-3 staff who are responsible for 15-20 youth if not more. These programs often must resort to psychological tactics to better control students. Staff often try to break the solidarity that students have with eachother. In many programs in order to progress in the program you have to tell on your peers to staff or "confront" your peers. Most of the time programs claim that it is posiitve to have peer influence but peers are often harsh and uncaring in comments which is encouraged by staff. In other cases students may act as junior staff or as authoritative figures and are required to punish otehr students in order to progress. When student inform staff of things that are going on with their peers staff convince students they are doing the right thing and that it shows a commitment to want to change and stomp out negative bahaviors.



"After half a day of this treatment, the guards then took some of these "good" prisoners and put them into the "bad" cells, and took some of the "bad" prisoners and put them into the "good" cell, thoroughly confusing all the prisoners. the prisoners became distrustful of each other."


" Every aspect of the prisoners' behavior fell under the total and arbitrary control of the guards. Even going to the toilet became a privilege which a guard could grant or deny at his whim. Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, we had already come to think so much like prison authorities that we thought he was trying to "con" us -- to fool us into releasing him."

As discussed above staff at the programs often have total and arbitrary control of the students. In many programs going to the bathroom is seen as a privilege as well as talking to other students or recieving medical attention. There are programs where children are punished for coughing or sneezing without asking permission as well as programs where children are reprimanded for being off task for  more than 10 seconds or more. For many students in these programs they begin to suffer from emotional disturbances, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying and rages. It is not to difficult to believe the child react due to the fact that they are children are participating involntarily and that many of them are not as stable at the participants in the Stanford Prison experiment. How medical complaints were handled in the mock jail is how they are often how they deal with complaints in programs. Children in programs are continiously told that they are faking medical conditions to try and manipulate or "con" their parents to bring them home. In some of the situations where staff have refused youth medical attention they have actually died.


" The next day, we held a visiting hour for parents and friends. We were worried that when the parents saw the state of our jail, they might insist on taking their sons home. To counter this, we manipulated both the situation and the visitors by making the prison environment seem pleasant and benign. They had to register, were made to wait half an hour, were told that only two visitors could see any one prisoner, were limited to only ten minutes of visiting time, and had to be under the surveillance of a guard during the visit. Before any parents could enter the visiting area, they also had to discuss their son's case with the Warden. Of course, parents complained about these arbitrary rules, but remarkably, they complied with them. And so they, too, became bit players in our prison drama, being good middle-class adults. Some of the parents got upset when they saw how fatigued and distressed their son was. But their reaction was to work within the system to appeal privately to the Superintendent to make conditions better for their boy. When one mother told me she had never seen her son looking so bad, I responded by shifting the blame from the situation to her son. "What's the matter with your boy? Doesn't he sleep well?" Then I asked the father, "Don't you think your boy can handle this?" "

Students in programs usually get to eventually see their parents although in most cases it is not for months. There are some programs where the family does not get to visit their child at all. As with the Stanford Prison Experiment  programs also make the environment more plesent when famalies or visitors come for fear if parents/ visitors see how the program really runs children will be taken home. Students must clean the facility when visitors are expected and often are treated alot better by the staff.  In some programs parents may come on scheduled days and programs change all rules and behaviors. The program also exerts it control over parents. Parents are made to follow the programs rules even when they dont agree and are told if they will not totally comply with the programs rules then they can just take their child home and most parents by that time are convinced that if children are not at the program they will die. Parents are usally told when they can visit there children and where they can visit their children

"The next major event we had to contend with was a rumored mass escape plot. One of the guards overheard the prisoners talking about an escape that would take place immediately after visiting hours. After our meeting, we decided to put an informant (an experimental confederate) in the cell that #8612 had occupied. The plan was to dismantle our jail after the visitors left, call in more guards, chain the prisoners together, put bags over their heads, and transport them to a fifth floor storage room until after the anticipated break in. "


"The rumor of the prison break turned out to be just a rumor. It never materialized. The guards again escalated very noticeably their level of harassment, increasing the humiliation they made the prisoners suffer, forcing them to do menial, repetitive work such as cleaning out toilet bowls with their bare hands. The guards had prisoners do push-ups, jumping jacks, whatever the guards could think up, and they increased the length of the counts to several hours each."


"Prisoner #819, who was feeling sick, had refused to eat, and wanted to see a doctor  and rest in a room that was adjacent to the prison yard. I said that I would get him some food and then take him to see a doctor. While I was doing this, one of the guards lined up the other prisoners and had them chant aloud: "Prisoner #819 is a bad prisoner. Because of what Prisoner #819 did, my cell is a mess, Mr. Correctional Officer." They shouted this statement in unison a dozen times.I suggested we leave, but he refused. Through his tears, he said he could not leave because the others had labeled him a bad prisoner. Even though he was feeling sick, he wanted to go back and prove he was not a bad prisoner."<< bootcamp clip

Many times children are either being defiant or so traumatized by the situations they are facing at the program that they also often feel sick and go as far as not eating. Their are situations in programs in which the other youth in programs are made to make other clients feel bad or goes as far to abuse them. Additionally, consequences and punishments  which are given to a large group is often blamed on one client. For example children are at times withheld food in wilderness programs which staff may blame on a  student in th group in order to make other children dislike them. There are programs where children are encouraged and/or required to bully other children by yelling and screaming at peers when in therapuetic group settings. Children often feel like they must complywith all rules because of the negative emotions they recieve in return from others in the program.


"There were three types of guards. First, there were tough but fair guards who followed prison rules. Second, there were "good guys" who did little favors for the prisoners and never punished them. And finally, about a third of the guards were hostile, arbitrary, and inventive in their forms of prisoner humiliation."

At programs aswell staff can fall into the 3 categorizes as the guards did. Their are times in programs where staff are nice to children in the program and are not abusive but often they are fired or quit  due to the issues in the program. The second group of guards is not often seen in staff because punishment is a requirement in these behavioral programs so if punishment is not being handed out they are not seen as doing their jobs. So most staff in residential programs fall in to with either group one in which staff follow the program rules which are often unreliable in themselves and as stated above REQUIRE punishment so those staff  are still expecting unrealistic goals due to program rules.If staff were not hostile and arbitrary when arriving they ended up becomming hostile and angry which is just what the experiment was examing..."How could intelligent, mentally healthy, "ordinary" men become perpetrators of evil so quickly? These were questions we were forced to ask."  Many of the staff fall into the third group who are hostile and often arbitrary and are inventive in their forms of punishment meant to humilate just as the third group of guards are. In some programs staff make student wear diapers if they wet themselves becuase of the bathroom restrictions. Staff may also try and humilate students by sharing personal issues with the group or staff may shame children for behavior that is completly normal. Staff in programs are known to have children clean rocks, dig holes or run 100's of laps for punishment which was done beacuse of the hostility of the staff.

"Prisoners coped with their feelings of frustration and powerlessness in a variety of ways. At first, some prisoners rebelled or fought with the guards. Four prisoners reacted by breaking down emotionally as a way to escape the situation. One prisoner developed a psychosomatic rash over his entire body when he learned that his parole request had been turned down. Others tried to cope by being good prisoners, doing everything the guards wanted them to do."

There are many different ways that children in programs deal with there feeling of frustration and powerlessness. There are children who refuse to follow any rules of the program by refusing to go to school,  food and water, refuse to hike in wilderness prgrams  or in daily prayer or devotionals in the case or religious programs, or are just distruptive (not following every singe rule) to the functioning of day to day actiivites of the program. There are chidren who have an emotional breakdown and start to cut themselves, try to commit suicide or who stop eating. Many children once they leave programs are diagnosed with PTSD.

"By the end of the study, the prisoners were disintegrated, both as a group and as individuals. There was no longer any group unity; just a bunch of isolated individuals hanging on, much like prisoners of war or hospitalized mental patients. The guards had won total control of the prison, and they commanded the blind obedience of each prisoner. Prisoners were withdrawing and behaving in pathological ways, and in which some of the guards were behaving sadistically. Even the "good" guards felt helpless to intervene, and none of the guards quit while the study was in progress. Indeed, it should be noted that no guard ever came late for his shift, called in sick, left early, or demanded extra pay for overtime work.""

By the time children are ready to leave programs according the program standards they are obiendient to all the rules of staff and programs. Children may not completly feel as individuals as they may feel a connection  to the program and to the staff fealing that if they were not in the program they woudl die and see the prgormas as lifesavers. As staff are known to pit one student agianst another students in the programs often find it hard to find solidarity with other children are most go in to survival mode in which they are just concerned with preserving themselves and getting back home or just out of the program. There are few cases where children feel like programs have saved there lives and do not want to leave the program and do stay past when needed and in many situations children who feel they have benifited become staff. It is interesting to note that many youth who do become staff notice after eventually leaving the program that they were abused while attending and were abusive as a staff.

"We did see one final act of rebellion. Prisoner #416 was newly admitted as one of our stand-by prisoners. Prisoner #416 coped by going on a hunger strike to force his release. After several unsuccessful attempts to get #416 to eat, the guards threw him into solitary confinement for three hours, even though their own rules stated that one hour was the limit. Still, #416 refused. At this point #416 should have been a hero to the other prisoners. But instead, the others saw him as a troublemaker. The head guard then exploited this feeling by giving prisoners a choice. They could have #416 come out of solitary if they were willing to give up their blanket, or they could leave #416 in solitary all night."

Many programs have an ongoing enrollement and when new teens are enrolled and misbehave they are seen as trouble makers by children who have been there longer. Even in programs in which children are admitted all at once as a large group as shown above in the prison experiment solidarity does break and new teens are seen as annoying and troublsome by others attending the program. In some programs the environment is large enough that negative students are able to find eachother and build relationships but staff will often make sure to break up those relationships. Any misbehavior in programs by any student usually ends them up in solitary confinment which in most programs in nothing more than a closet or in some situation it may be an actual out door cage.

"I ended the study prematurely for two reasons. First, we had learned through videotapes that the guards were escalating their abuse of prisoners in the middle of the night when they thought no researchers were watching and the experiment was "off."

Unlike the Standford Prison Experiment program are NOT experiments and the outcome of MOST program is known to be unsecessful.

There are some difference between the Standford Prison Experiments and the troubled teen industry. As most of the prisoners were mentally stable the effects were different.

The prisoners of the Standford Prison Experiment were brought in to the prison at the same time as youth are brought in at all different times it make solidarity harder.

Children can be in programs for up to 5 years whereas this experiment was only a few weeks

The experimen tswas looking at a prison environments which are and based on a punishment system where as many of these programs are sold as treatments but to are relying on punishment as the basis of help instead of direction and caring help which is what parents expect.