Jessica Miller’s reporting helped change laws regarding Utah’s “troubled teens” industry.
Salt Lake Tribune reporter Jessica Miller is a finalist for a prestigious national award for her reporting on Utah’s “troubled teens” industry.
Utah is home to nearly 100 residential youth treatment centers, and the state has played a disproportionate role in the struggling teen industry. Thousands of children have been sent to Utah facilities from across the United States and even more remote areas, including Bermuda. But the state has historically lacked heavy surveillance in these centers, and many former residents, including celebrities like Paris Hilton and rapper Bhad Bhabie, have spoken out against the abuse they suffered during their treatment.
Miller has shed light on conditions in Utah youth treatment centers for the past three years. She is now a finalist for a Livingston Award 2021 for papers she wrote in 2020 on the struggling teen industry. The award recognizes journalists under 35 for their “outstanding achievement” in local, national and international reporting. Miller is a finalist in the local reports category.
She said it was “gratifying” to see her work recognized, especially in a year like 2020, “with so much great journalism in the country.”
Miller’s work on the struggling teen industry began with a story about a riot that happened in April 2019 at Red Rock Canyon School, published in June. The establishment finally closed its doors. She then decided to delve into the industry as a whole.
Since 2019, Miller has written about sexual abuse, physical abuse, and chemical sedation at several treatment centers. She also documented the work of activists, including Hilton, who are pushing for change.
Read the three Jessica Miller stories for which she is a Livingston Award finalist:
• Part 1: In Utah’s struggling teen industry: How it started, why kids are being sent here, and what’s happening to them (August 2020).
• Part 2: Utah faces criticism for its light surveillance of treatment centers for “troubled adolescents” (November 2020).
• Part 3: Former Students at Distressed Teen Centers in Utah Say Their Sexual Abuse Reports Have Been Ignored (December 2020).
Utah Governor Spencer Cox this year signed a law limiting the use of sedatives, restraints and seclusion for adolescents in centers. This is the first new regulation for the industry in 15 years.
Miller, who reported on a plethora of injustices as The Tribune’s legal and criminal justice reporter, said change often came incrementally. She said it was exciting that attention to the struggling teen industry led to real change so quickly.
“Ultimately, the goal should be to keep children safe when they come to Utah for treatment, and that hasn’t happened in the past,” she said.
Miller said she was grateful to former youth center residents who were willing to open up to her about their experiences. She said these stories connect with readers and stakeholders as conversations about reform unfold in the Legislature.