'Boot camp' closed
Tufton wants educational/training
facility for controversial Tranquility Bay camp
February 23, 2009
BY GARFIELD MYERS Editor-at-Large South/Central Bureau
BEACH, St Elizabeth - Tranquility Bay, the controversial offshore
reform school for rebellious children, mostly from the United
States, closed its doors last month as a result of a fallout in
business. The last 'inmate' reportedly left the island on January 5.
Now, Member of Parliament for South
West St Elizabeth Dr Christopher Tufton wants the government to
acquire the facility and convert it into an educational/training
Tufton told the Observer that he
had approached the Education Minister Andrew Holness about the
"I have had discussions with him (Holness)
about exploring the possibility of using it (Tranquility Bay) for
training," Tufton said last week.
The Tranquility Bay complex was
controversially used for 12 years by the United States group World
Wide Association of Speciality Programmes and Schools (WWASP) as a
'boot camp' for non-Jamaican teenagers until its closure early last
A comment by Holness over recent
days at Spot Valley in St James that the ministry had identified
premises in St Elizabeth as a site for the Education Ministry's
proposed Alternative Student Intervention Programme for disruptive
children, fuelled speculation in St Elizabeth that he was referring
to Tranquility Bay.
Holness could not be reached for
comment as the Observer went to press. But a ministry spokesman told
the Observer that the minister's comment at Spot Valley was not
related to Tranquility Bay in Treasure Beach, but to a facility
further east on the St Elizabeth/Manchester border. The ministry
spokesman said he had no knowledge of any plans for Tranquility Bay.
Mandeville businessman Tony James,
whose family owns Tranquility Bay, told the Observer last week that
the property was up for lease or sale.
Originally built 20 years ago by
the James family, the Tranquility Bay complex cited on two and a
half acres of beachfront land often referred to by locals as Old
Wharf was originally used as a hotel - Old Wharf Hotel. It was
leased for a period by the United States army before the Ken Kay-led
WWASP took it over in 1997 as a privately-run educational
reformatory targetting children - mainly from the United States -
who were considered disruptive or indisciplined. Fees were said to
have run from US$25,000 to $40,000 annually per child.
At it's height, Tranquility Bay,
directed by Kay's son Jay Kay, was said to have had close to 300
children with as many as 250 people - mostly Jamaicans - on the
employment roll. But allegations in the international media that
children were psychologically, if not physically abused, and that
living conditions were unsanitary and generally unsatisfactory,
marred its name.
Business steadily declined in
recent years and it was finally closed last month.
A few years ago the facility was
slapped with a number of lawsuits from parents, with some claiming
that the 'help' they had been promised with their rebellious teens
had been extreme.
In 2001, the facility was again
thrown into the spotlight after a 17-year-old Alabama teen jumped
from a 35-foot-high balcony shortly after arrival. The police told
the Observer then that the teen, who had arrived in the island the
previous day, asked to be excused from her class in order to dispose
of a piece of paper. She then reportedly ran through the door and
jumped off a balcony to her death.
The teen, newspaper reports said,
was awaken from her bed and taken to the island as her family had
arranged her surprise removal to Tranquility Bay. The Constabulary
Communication Network (CCN) officer for St Elizabeth later told the
Observer that the post-mortem had found that the teen had died from
head injuries received from her fall. Her skull, the CCN officer
said, was fractured in two places. Bars were subsequently added to
all balconies at the facility.
In addition, in 2005, two teenagers
ran away from the facility after Hurricane Emily sideswiped the
island. The students were later found with the help of the police
and a private investigator.