Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment (2007-2014) Syracuse, UT

Behavioral Assessment Facility

History and Background Information

The Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment (also called “The Aspen Institute”) was an Aspen Education Group behavior-modification program founded in 2007. It was marketed as a “behavioral assessment” facility for teenagers aged 12-17. The program stated that they enrolled teenagers with a history of “suicidal ideation or past attempts, other self harm propensity such a cutting, deep depression, certain classes of obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD), anxiety disorders, emerging thought disorders, body weight issues, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, resistance to treatment, parental reluctance towards wilderness therapy or when wilderness therapy is not advisable, those requiring a Pre-Long Term Placement Assessment or In-depth Testing, or Medication Assessment and Management.” The program was shorter-term and usually lasted between 2 and 3 months. The Aspen Institute was a lock-down facility and it was used by other Aspen Education Group programs for residents who were resistant to their program or required a more intense, structured, “hospital-like” setting.

The Aspen Institute was located at 2732 West 2700 South, Syracuse, UT 84037, and it was actually located right next door to another Aspen Education Group program, Island View RTC. In fact, residents at the Aspen Institute were frequently taken on the short walk to Island View’s campus to use their gym and other facilities. In addition, many residents were transferred between Aspen and Island View as part of their “treatment” process.

In April of 2014, the Aspen Institute was sold to Family Help & Wellness and immediately reopened under the name Viewpoint Center. However, other than the change of name and ownership, nothing about the program was altered in the slightest. Even most of same staff continued to work at Viewpoint after the Aspen Institute “closed”. It is also important to note that this change in ownership was also entirely superficial, as Family Help & Wellness is known to be simply a lazy attempt to rebrand Aspen Education Group. In fact, the Founder and Executive Board Chair of Family Help & Wellness, Tim Duppell, previously worked as the CFO and Executive Vice President of Aspen Education Group before leaving to start FH&W.

Founders and Notable Staff

Jared Balmer is one of the founders of the Aspen Institute. He also worked as the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute. He began his career in the TTI by helping Co-Found the confirmedly abusive Rivendell of Utah. He previously helped open several other Aspen Education Group programs, including Island View RTC and the Oakley School. In 2006, he was the recipient of the NATSAP Leadership Award. He is currently the Executive Director of WayPoint Academy, which he helped found in 2011 with Mike Bulloch.

  1. Kimball DeLaMare is one of the founders of the Aspen Institute. Like Jared Balmer, DeLaMare also helped co-found Island View RTC and the Oakley School. In 2004, he was the recipient of the NATSAP Leadership Award. He was the previous director of the Utah KIDS, which was a reportedly abusive drug treatment program which was under investigation in 1989 for allegations of false imprisonment, unlawful detention and assault. Additional Information about Utah KIDS: Tough Treatment For Problem Juveniles Under Investigation

Mike Bulloch is one of the founders of the Aspen Institute. He also worked as the Clinical Director of the Aspen Institute. He previously worked as the Clinical Director of the Oakley School for six years prior to working at the Aspen Institute. In 2013, he and Jared Balmer co-founded WayPoint Academy, where he still works as the Clinical Director and Assisstant Executive Director.

Kirk Simon worked at the Aspen Institute a Psychiatrist. He has also worked at Island View RTC, where he served as Medical Director. He currently works as the Psychiatrist at Solstice RTC in Utah, which is a program founded by former Island View staff.

David Ericksen began working at the Aspen Institute in 2008. He previously worked with Jared Balmer at the confirmedly abusive Rivendell of Utah in the late 80s, providing psychological assessment services.

Program Structure

Like other behavior-modification programs, the Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment used a level-system consisting of three levels. Unlike other programs, however, the residents were assigned a level each day by the “treatment team” based on their behaviors during the previous day. The levels were as follows:

  • Level 1: When a resident arrived at the Aspen Institute, they were placed on Level 1. They were required to stay on Level 1 for a minimum of 3-4 days, but this could be extended if the teenager was deemed resistant. On this level, the resident was given no privileges. They were not allowed to sleep in their room, but instead must sleep on a mattress in the brightly-lit hallway. During “room-time” they were also not allowed to enter their room, but must sit in the hallway. They were also not allowed to leave the building for any reason. In addition to when a teen arrives, a resident could also put on Level 1 as punishment if they broke a rule.
  • Level 2: Residents would be put on Level 2 if they did not break any rules and seemed to be working with the program. These residents were given some privileges, such as being able to leave the Institute to go use Island View’s gym with the rest of their peers. They were also allowed to sleep in their room and spend their “room-time” in there. They were also permitted to go outside into the fenced-in backyard area for “outdoor time” (about one hour per day).
  • Level 3: Level 3 was the highest level a resident at the Aspen Institute could attain. On this level, the residents were given the additional privileges of being able to check out one of the iPod shuffles from the main desk and being allowed to go on the Friday “special outing” (which was, in reality, just a quick drive to the gas station to buy a slushee or other inexpensive treat).

The program at the Aspen Institute revolved around a series of psychological tests meant to aid in the diagnosis and treatment plan of the teenager. They were required to stay at the program until they had completed all of these tests and a treatment plan had been created. It was extremely rare that a resident would be referred to go home after their time at the Institute, as almost always they would be referred to other, longer-term programs. Some of the programs that survivors report being sent to following their time at the Aspen Institute include Island View RTC, Spring Ridge Academy, and Solstice RTC.

Rules and Punishments

The Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment was a very strict program with many rules. Some of these rules included:

  • Must count while using the bathroom and showering
  • Must be patted-down whenever entering or exiting a room
  • Must ask permission for everything, including standing up or using lip balm
  • No talking to other residents without a staff member listening
  • Must remain within line-of-sight of a staff member at all times

If a resident broke a rule at the Aspen Institute, they were given a punishment. Punishments included not being allowed to make eye-contact or speak with other residents, being restrained, or being put into solitary confinement in the “Isolation Room.” The Isolation Room was a tiny room with white tiles lining the walls and a drain in the middle of the floor. Teens would be put into this room for things as small as having a panic attack.

Abuse Allegations, Lawsuits, and Rebranding

The Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment is reported by many survivors to have been an abusive program. These reports include allegations of excessive and violent restraints, sexual misconduct between residents, and use of solitary confinement. In addition, many have reported that the program was emotionally abusive, and stripped the teenagers of their most basic human rights. It has also been reported that teens were often subjected to strip-searches multiple times per week, which were often conducted by staff members of the opposite sex.

In April of 2014, the mother of an Aspen Instute resident, Miriam Blank, sued Bain Capital, Aspen Education Group, the Aspen Institute of Behavioral Assessment, the Harris County Office of Human Resources and Risk Management, Guardians of Hope, and two people in Federal Court. She claimed that her 16-year-old daughter was taken from Texas by a human trafficker and locked up at the Aspen Institute, where she was made to perform “mindless tasks of blind obedience.”

Shortly after Blank filed the lawsuit, in April of 2014, Aspen Education Group sold the Aspen Institute to Family Help & Wellness. With this change in ownership, the program’s name was changed to Viewpoint Center, which is still in operation today. However, it should be noted that apart from the name, nothing else about the program actually changed. Viewpoint Center uses almost exactly the same program model with many of the same staff as the Aspen Institute. Even further, the change in ownership was also entirely superficial, as Family Help & Wellness is known to be simply an attempt to rebrand Aspen Education Group. In fact, the Founder and CEO of Family Help & Wellness, Tim Dupell, previously worked as the CFO and Executive Vice President of Aspen Education Group before leaving to start FH&W.

Survivor Testimonies

2020: (SURVIVOR) “I was sent here when it was Aspen Institute and have spoken to people who were there after it was renamed as “viewpoint”. It was owned by Aspen Education Group (owned by Bain Capital, so understandably this place is only concerned with exploiting a parent’s biggest fear and squeezing as much money out of you as possible) until it was bought by Family Help & Wellness in 2014. Family Help & Wellness is owned by Tim Dupell who was the Executive Vice President and CFO of Aspen Education Group (until he left to create FH&W when AEG started getting lots of allegations of abuse in their facilities and subsequent low enrollment), so VC trying to claim that they’ve changed their controversial (and often abusive) ways since its ownership by AEG is clearly an extremely shady attempt to cover the truth. When I went back to visit “Viewpoint” after graduating from the RTC that the Aspen Institute convinced my parents to send me to (13 MONTHS after I left Aspen), nearly all of the staff were the same. Nothing has changed, not even those who are in charge of the company (Tim Dupell and his brother-in-law Wayne Laird). When I was there, we were treated like criminals. We were patted down at every doorway, every door was locked (even our rooms and the bathrooms) and we were never allowed to be alone. The first few nights (or if you get put on the lowest level any day for not complying) they force you to sleep on a thin mattress on the floor in the hallway. The only time we were taken off campus was to go use Island View RTC’s (now called Elevations RTC and also owned by FH&W) gym for an hour a couple times a week, ONLY IF we were on a high enough level, or to go on an “outing” on Friday if we were on the highest level (which very few of us were) and this “special outing” was in reality a quick drive to a gas station where we could get a slushee or a soda or something (for under $2), then it was right back to Aspen. Most of the people who work there (at least the milieu staff, with whom we had 90% of our interaction) have no formal qualifications to work with mentally ill children, they just need a GED and a little bit of training. I witnessed horrific restraints, that often left the kids with rug-burns and bruises. Children were restrained for having panic attacks, for crying that they missed their parents, for basically anything the staff deemed disruptive or resistant to the program. The staff there were on a power-trip 24/7 and develop this idea that we are all inferior. On April 1st, the staff member pulled the fire alarms at 4am and told us all that we needed to get up and pack all of our stuff because there was a tornado that was coming right for us. We were all disoriented and the alarm was so loud and a lot of us were crying and panicking. They didn’t tell us it was an April Fools prank until like 10 minutes later. They also used a seclusion room, which was a tiny room with no windows and white tiles lining the walls. It was terrifying. They would put kids in there for hours, just for crying or having a panic attack. Their screams still haunt me. The worst part, by far, was the fact that no matter how well I behaved, at the end of those 2.5 months I knew they were going to convince my parents to send me somewhere else. They monitored and censored all of the limited communication I had w my parents and made it impossible for any of us to report abuse. We were labeled “troubled teens” and all of our credibility was stripped. They convinced my parents that I was extremely mentally ill, tried to diagnose me with all of these crazy disorders (including borderline personality and substance use disorders, both of which are bullshit, I was just a kid with anxiety and undiagnosed ptsd). I had to spend 13 months in an RTC after that, which is conveniently also owned by family help and wellness, the same company which took over ownership of viewpoint only a few days after I left. In my opinion, that place is a total money-making scam that preys on parents worst fears and manipulated them into spending even more money so their child can be abused. ” – u/shroomskillet, Subreddit Wiki Editor

Related Media

HEAL Program Information – Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment

Mom called Rehab Place a Private Prison (Courthouse News Service, 4/7/2014)

Aspen Institute for Behavioral Assessment – Parent Handbook (July 2010)