Kidnapping Incorporated: The Unregulated Youth-Transportation Industry and the Potential for Abuse

Ira P. Robbins

American University - Washington College of Law

June 12, 2014

American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 3, 2014
American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2014-32

Strangers come into a child’s room in the middle of the night, drag her kicking and screaming into a van, apply handcuffs, and drive her to a behavior-modification facility at a distant location. What sounds like a clear-cut case of kidnapping is complicated by the fact that the child’s parents not only authorized this intervention, but also paid for it. This scarcely publicized practice — known as the youth-transportation industry — operates on the fringes of existing law. The law generally presumes that parents have almost unlimited authority over their children, but the youth-transportation industry has never been closely examined regarding exactly what the transportation process entails or whether it is in fact legal.

The companies provide a service to parents who want to send their children to behavior-modification facilities, including boot camps and other residential reform schools, but who are unable or unwilling to deliver the children themselves. A transportation company contracts with the parents to arrange for pickup and conveyance; the parents delegate rights over their children to the company, usually by signing a power of attorney. Due to the circumstances in which these transports typically take place, however, this delegation of rights has far greater implications than simply authorizing the transportation of a child from point A to point B. After suffering the emotional trauma of being taken from their parents, children may suffer physical abuse as well, as the companies often use force in the form of handcuffs and other restraints. This Article examines the details of the transport process and raises legal questions about the disciplinary authority that parents possess, including the extent to which they can grant this authority to a third party.

Similar questions arose in the past with analogous private-transportation entities, but those questions were addressed when Congress issued strict regulations to monitor and limit their ability to transport vulnerable individuals. This Article provides the first in-depth examination of the legal issues relevant to the youth-transportation industry and recommends regulations that should be promulgated to keep the delegation of parental authority in check and thus protect the best interests of the child.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 39

Keywords: best interests of the child, juvenile law, kidnapping, private prisons, child abuse, behavior modification, false imprisonment, youth transport, due process, power of attorney, parens patriae, in loco parentis, parental-immunity doctrine, Child Abuse Prevention & Treatment Act

JEL Classification: J13, J18, K10, K12, K13, K14, K19, K30, K39, K40, K42, K49, R48, G18, G28, G38, I18, K20, L50, K23

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Date posted: June 14, 2014 ; Last revised: June 26, 2014

Suggested Citation

Robbins, Ira P., Kidnapping Incorporated: The Unregulated Youth-Transportation Industry and the Potential for Abuse (June 12, 2014). American Criminal Law Review, Vol. 51, No. 3, 2014; American University, WCL Research Paper No. 2014-32. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2449298

Contact Information

Ira P. Robbins (Contact Author)
American University - Washington College of Law ( email )
4801 Massachusetts Avenue N.W.
Washington, DC 20016
United States
202-274-4235 (Phone)
202-274-4130 (Fax)
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