Elan School was founded in 1970 by psychiatrist Gerald Davidson, investor David Goldberg, and college drop-out Joseph Ricci. Joseph Ricci was a former heroin addict and former resident of Daytop Village – a direct Synanon spin-off program. In Elan’s infancy, it housed primarily adults with a sole emphasis on addiction. It wasn’t until later that it started opening its doors to younger children. It marketed itself as a boarding school for troubled teens between the ages of 12-19 and eventually expanded to several buildings and locations. The average stay at Elan was 2 years. However, there were exceptions where some residents would have to stay up to 3-4 years. Elan School would later become a member of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP).

Elan School was widely recognized for its Synanon-like methods which included attack therapy, public humiliation, and abuse. Much like Synanon, residents were pressured and bullied into false confessions during their version of “The Game.” One notable example of this became a national news story: Michael Skakel, nephew of Ethel Kennedy, was sent to Elan during his teenage years. During an intense session of forced boxing, he was confronted about the murder of his neighbor (Martha Moxley). After each round, the staff would ask if he had killed her. Each round, he would say no. After much physical abuse, he said, “I don’t know.” He was later convicted almost solely based on this perceived coerced confession in 2002. At the time, there was not as much public understanding about these troubled teen schools or how coerced confessions were often elicited from the children. After spending over 10 years in prison, Michael Skakel was eventually able to overturn his conviction in 2013.

Elan School was eventually closed in 2011. Elan School was also featured in popular media in the documentary “The Last Stop” on Amazon Prime, “Children of Darkness” produced by PBS in 1983, and a webcomic named “Joe vs Elan School” created by a former resident.