Paris Hilton joined two Utah County lawmakers, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday for the ceremonial signing of a bill that increases oversight and regulations at Utah’s youth residential treatment centers.
Senate Bill 127, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, prohibits peer restraints, strip and body cavity searches, abuse neglect, repeated physical exercise and “discipline or punishment that is intended to frighten or humiliate.”
Additionally, the bill allocates $680,400 for the Utah Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing to hire eight full-time licensors to enforce the new regulations and increase inspections at facilities throughout the state.
Hilton, who alleges she was abused as a teenager at Provo Canyon School in the 1990s, led the charge for increased oversight at youth residential treatment centers and testified before a Senate committee in February.
“When I was at Provo Canyon School in solitary confinement, I had hours upon hours to contemplate the ways I needed support in those moments,” Hilton said Tuesday during a press conference at the Utah State Capitol. “But I didn’t receive it and dreamed up about what I wanted to accomplish when I got out.”
Hilton said that advocating for change at Utah’s residential youth treatment facilities has been her “greatest accomplishment and role.”
“(I am) proud to be part of a movement that is making these facilities a safer, more healing place for our most vulnerable youth. No child should experience abuse in the name of treatment,” she said.
Henderson praised Hilton “for her courage” and for using her traumatic experience “as an opportunity to make life better for other people and other kids, other children, not just in Utah but throughout the country.”
“It’s easy to go about things the way we’ve always done them and to not question,” the lieutenant governor said. “And those who step up and start questioning help others’ eyes open to problems that exist. And that takes a lot of courage sometimes, to be the one doing questioning, the one bringing up problems to light.”
McKell said that “reform of the troubled-teen industry in Utah is long overdue” and added that the bill “sets a path forward for states to follow and for the country to follow by increasing transparency and bringing an end to abusive practices in youth residential treatment centers.”
The Spanish Fork senator said that he is “grateful for the survivors and constituents who are using their voices to bring attention to an industry that desperately needs reform.”
“This legislation has been really, really personal to me in the end,” he said. “I have received a lot of input, a lot of feedback, from people that were hurt, from kids that were hurt, from family members who were hurt, and I appreciate hearing those stories.”
Republican Highland Rep. Brady Brammer, the floor sponsor of S.B. 127, also said the bill was personal to him, noting that, growing up, he watched his brother go in and out of various treatment centers.
“Some of them were very good for him. But others were dehumanizing, they were humiliating for him. And I watched as my brother was treated in a way that I felt was wrong,” Brammer said.
Though the governor already signed S.B. 127 into law on March 23, he noted on Tuesday that state officials occasionally hold “ceremonial bill signings so that we can highlight something that was done that we believe deserves a little extra attention.”
“I truly believe that this is one of those highlights,” Cox said.