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Paris Hilton backs California bill to bring more transparency to youth treatment facilities

Hotel heiress and media personalty Paris Hilton, center, wipes her eyes as state Sen. Aisha Wahab, D-Fremont, left, talks in support of a proposed bill calling on more transparency for youth treatment facilities during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 15, 2024. At right is state Sen. Janet Nguyen, R-Huntington Beach. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Original Publication Date April 15, 2024 - 1:46 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Paris Hilton joined California state lawmakers Monday to push for legislation aimed at cracking down on the industry that cares for troubled teens by requiring more transparency from youth treatment facilities.

The bill supported by the Hilton Hotel heiress and media personality aims to pry open information on how short-term residential facilities for youth dealing with substance abuse and behavioral issues use disciplinary methods such as restraints or seclusion against minors. It would require such centers to notify parents and the state any time they use restrains or seclusion rooms for minors. It’s authored by Republican state Sen. Shannon Grove and Democratic state Sens. Aisha Wahab and Angelique Ashby.

On Monday, Hilton testified in a legislative hearing in support of the bill, detailing her harrowing abuse as a teenager at a facility in Utah that she said still haunts her and urging lawmakers to take actions before more children have to suffer similar treatment.

“Our current system designed to reform, in some horrific instances, does the exact opposite,” Hilton told lawmakers Monday. “It breaks spirits and instills fear, and it perpetuates a cycle of abuse. But today, we have the power to change that.”

The California bill passed committee with bipartisan support on Monday. Under the bill, facilities would have to report details such as what disciplinary actions were taken, why and who had approved the plan. The state department regulating the facilities also would be required to make public the reports and update the database on the quarterly basis. It would not ban the use of such practices.

Hilton has become a prominent advocate for more oversight and regulation of teen treatment centers after publicly sharing the physical and mental abuse she suffered as a teenager. She alleged staff members would beat her, force her to take unknown pills, watch her shower and send her to solitary confinement without clothes as punishment.

In 2021, her testimony about her experience at Utah’s Provo Canyon School helped pass a bill to impose stricter oversight over youth treatment centers in the state. Hilton has also traveled to Washington D.C. to advocate for federal reforms and helped changed laws to protect minors in at least eight states. Earlier this month, she spoke in support of boys sent to a private school for troubled teens in Jamaica.

Hilton, whose company called 11:11 Media is sponsoring the bill, called the legislation “a game changer” that would shed light on child abuse at youth residential treatments and hold them accountable.

“This would have been so helpful to myself and so many others to have known what was happening behind closed doors,” Paris said in an interview. “Because I was cut off from the outside world, I couldn’t tell my family anything, and that’s what they do.”

Between 2015 and 2020, California sent more than 1,240 children with behavior problems to out-of-state facilities due to the lack of locked treatment centers for youths, according to Sen. Grove’s office. As reports about abuse happening at these programs emerged, including an incident where a 16-year-old boy died after being restrained for about 12 minutes at a Michigan facility, California also found significant licensing violations at these facilities and decided to do away with the program in 2020. Legislation passed in 2021 formally banned the use of out-of-state residential centers. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom also authorized $8 million to bring all the minors home by last year.

Minors with behavioral issues are now sent to in-state short-term residential centers, which were created in 2017 to replace group homes. But under current laws, these facilities are not required to share information on how often they use seclusion rooms, restraints, and how many times those methods result in serious injuries or deaths.

Children at these facilities make up one of the most vulnerable populations, including foster youths who have previously been sexually exploited, Grove said.

“It’s a small but critical step to ensure the increased transparency and accountability for California’s children,” she said Monday.

News from © The Associated Press, 2024
The Associated Press

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