In 2014, the Chicago Tribune published a year long investigation into residential treatment centers designed to help youth with severe emotional, behavioral, or mental issues.
The piece, titled “Harsh Treatment,” focused on centers across Illinois where children are assaulted, sexually abused and running away by the thousands — yet state officials failed to act on reports of harm and continued to send waves of youths to the most troubled and violent facilities.
Prostitution is common at facilities where experienced residents introduce others to pimps, escort websites and street life. Youths with histories of sexual abuse are exploited by peers and even by their adult caregivers. And thousands of kids flee to the streets, where some sell drugs and sex to survive. Many have never been found.
Those who remained were shuttled for years from one grim institution to another only to emerge more damaged than when they went in.
The project was a finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting and winner of the 2015 Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics.