Posts tagged ‘Judge Rotenberg Center’

UN Official Calls Rotenberg’s Treatment ‘Torture’

Matthew Israel, founder (Photo by Larry Sultan)

Finally — someone in a position to do something is calling Judge Rotenberg Center’s discipline-by-electric-shock methods torture. You may remember a couple of previous posts (here and here) about JRC’s electrically shocking children, many with special needs, in addition to aggressive use of restraints, withholding food and just general abuse and bullying labeled care. These are not exceptions or anomalies but the very approach the school is built upon. They are using pain and fear to alter children’s behavior and they are doing so openly — even as a selling point — and sadly, there is a public buying. Parents that would almost certainly never take a job in an office that shocks them to keep up production and compliance are packing their kids up and dropping them off for this. Some  of these children have psychiatric diagnoses and behavioral  issues, others developmental disabilities including autism.

From the Patriot-Ledger:

A top United Nations official has described as torture the shock treatments used by the Judge Rotenberg Center on some of its special needs students. Manfred Nowak, the Austrian lawyer who is the U.N.’s special rapporteur on torture, in May asked the federal government to investigate the use of electric shocks at the school in Canton.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Justice Department opened an investigation into whether the center violates federal disability laws by disciplining and controlling students with electric shock therapy.

“I have no doubts about it,” replied Nowak when asked if the practice is torture in an interview broadcast on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” this week.

Nowak sought the investigation after reviewing a report critical of the center by Mental Disabilities Rights International, a human rights organization.

Thanks in part to ABC’s Nightline who featured JRC story (which I missed), A wider public is aware of what’s happening under our noses — and worse, that it’s been happening for decades. Is that enough? I would hope that we are collectively disturbed enough by what’s going on to insist upon an end to it but the public doesn’t get too bent out of shape  unless it’s their own pristinely “normal” children at the receiving end of the abuse. I would love to be wrong about that.

There is no question. This is torture. This is an abuse of human rights. The fact that it is done in a school setting or under the pretense of “therapy” or to troubled and troubling kids is irrelevant if not even more damning and it shouldn’t take 39 years, the network news and the UN’s special rapporteur on torture to tell us that.

•  •  •

You can contact Massachusetts governor, Deval Patrick HERE. Find out what he thinks, in the face of another election, of his governing over the only state in the nation to allow a facility like this to exist and thrive — and get the attention of the UN’s special rapporteur on torture. After all, people are shipping their kids up from other states with enough sense to ban such treatment. More importantly, tell him what you think of the torture of children and the disabled being carried out in Massachusetts. Demand change.


July 3, 2010 at 11:46 am

MDRI Releases Report on Rotenberg Center

Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) whose simple slogan is “Disability rights are human rights” has issued a report on the abuses at Judge Rotenberg Center calling on the Special Rapporteur, The Obama Administration and the Department of justice in their effort to put a stop to the establishment’s longstanding abuses against children and adults in their alleged “care”.

You may remember my posting about JRC in the past. The abuses that occur there are astounding and I and many others are left wondering how such abuses can carry on without any outside interference from the governing bodies that are supposed to protect all of our citizens — certainly those among us most vulnerable to mistreatment. In its report MDRI rightfully calls this mistreatment nothing short of torture.

From MDRI’s front page:

Washington, DC – April 29, 2010 – Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has found children and adults with disabilities tortured and abused at a “special needs” residential facility in Massachusetts and has filed an “urgent appeal” with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture to demand the United States government end the torture immediately.
MDRI’s latest report, Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC),documents the use of electric shocks on the legs, arms, torsos and soles of feet of people with disabilities – for weeks, months and sometimes years. JRC uses punishments as treatment and US advocates have been trying for decades to close the school and end these practices. The school also uses 4-point restraint boards, tying children to the boards while simultaneously shocking them for hours; mock assaults; food deprivation; shock chairs; isolation and long-term restraint. Residents at JRC are diagnosed with a variety of behavioral, intellectual and psychiatric disabilities such as autism, bi-polar disorder and learning disabilities.
Laurie Ahern, President of MDRI and author of the report, states, “The cruelty perpetrated against children and adults at JRC is psychological and physical abuse, couched in the name of ‘treatment.’ The severe pain and suffering leveled against residents there violates the United Nations Convention against Torture. And to the best of our knowledge, JRC is the only facility of any kind in the US – and perhaps the world –that uses electricity combined with long-term restraint and other punishments to intentionally cause pain to children with behavioral challenges and calls it treatment.”
MDRI calls on the Special Rapporteur, along with the Obama Administration and the Department of Justice, to end the abuses against people with disabilities at JRC. MDRI is an international human rights and advocacy organization dedicated to the rights protection and full participation in society of people with disabilities worldwide. Help us put an end to the torture of children with disabilities in JRC.

I sincerely hope this report and urgent appeal are not falling on deaf ears. MDRI presents a clear opportunity for the system to take a stand on institutional abuse and torture under the pretense of care. We need to stop drawing lines across which we’re willing to allow these things to happen. No perceived mental illness or disability can be allowed to take away our basic human rights. This is their chance to show us that human rights are universal. If they can’t do that, what are they good for?

May 3, 2010 at 10:30 am 1 comment

It’s not abuse if the kid’s really bad, right?

The perfect environment for learning

Imagine living at a school, hundreds of miles from your family, with devices on your limbs and torso to administer electric shock — your teachers walking around with labeled triggers hanging from their belts, ready to administer “level III interventions” at the slightest infraction. And in case their watchful eye isn’t enough, they have the help of  monitors to watch you on camera and report to staff when you break a “behavioral contract.” While this sounds like some sort of Orwellian worst-case scenario, it has been happening in one American school for decades.

In some schools, “student” is just a nice, clean word for “inmate.” Perhaps that is most true at Canton, MA’s Judge Rotenberg Center, a school attended exclusively by those who are emotionally troubled or developmentally challenged (including those with autism and asperger’s syndrome) and exhibiting behavioral problems. Somehow I don’t think their methods, which include electric shock, restraint, seclusion and withholding of food, are the fast track to well adjusted kids.

These methods certainly won’t get to the root of a child’s problems and while you’d think a lot of the school’s time and effort would be spent finding out why these children have trouble controlling aggression and impulses, that’s not how Rotenberg works. From the Village Voice:

One thing you won’t see at the center is traditional psychological counseling. While students do meet with clinicians, there are no regular appointments or group therapy. School literature states that counseling is done “as needed,” but not when it could be seen as a reward for bad behavior, and adds: “The purpose of the counseling is to enhance the student’s cooperation with, and progress within the program.” (emphasis mine)

While mechanical restraints and restrictive diet are common at JRC, it seems the institution’s favored approach is “skin shock” by way of their Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) which they manufacture themselves. It is, simply put, corporal punishment without having to actually hit the victim. From the NY Times:

Just how painful those shocks are has been an area of particular debate. Technically, the lowest shock given by Rotenberg is roughly twice what pain researchers have said is tolerable for most humans, said James Eason, a professor of biomedical engineering at Washington and Lee University. The highest shock given by Rotenberg is three times the lowest amount.

It’s not just the most offensive behaviors like violence and self harm that warrant shock at JRC. A child can be shocked for nagging, standing up without permission, swearing, sloppiness, raising his voice, speaking out of turn — any behavior outlined in an individual “behavioral contract” tailor made for each student — even if that behavior is a direct result of the child’s autism or other developmental disability. It is reported that some autistic children, seeing staff members reach toward their belts to shock other students, have screamed from fear that the shock was going to be for them. They were shocked for screaming.

In one event, a former student phoned in pretending to be a staff member. The staff, apparently without questioning this, shocked a student repeatedly for infractions the caller “reported” and on top of that shocked him repeatedly for noncompliance when he protested. By the end of that three hours, he had been shocked 77 times. From the Boston Globe:

… the staff tied Dumas’s son to a board, restraining all four limbs. The teenager, resigned to his fate, said, “Let them know I’m being compliant.”

During the next hour, he received dozens of rapid-fire shocks to his abdomen and limbs, which in fact violated his treatment plan. At one point, he complained, “Mister, I can’t breathe.”

On tape, the staff recounted the reasons for different shocks, including swearing, verbal threats, and noncompliance. Of the two power levels of shock treatments used by the school, Dumas’s son received the most powerful each time, school officials have said.

Shift supervisor Michael Thompson, on the job for two months, left the room at one point, saying he wanted to “either cry or throw up,” the report said.

This, as seems to be the case with most things lately, is the tip of the iceberg so I’ll leave you with excerpts and links to more involved reports on Rotenberg by people who have visited. It is nothing short of abuse and it seems more true than ever that abuse can be tolerated by the public if you find a way to call it therapy. It is not therapy and cannot be said to “work” simply because it reduces the unwanted behaviors on a list. These children are likely to live their lives knowing only limitations, anxiety and fear of reprisal. I don’t know that any one institution is likely to produce a greater number of broken and fearful “students” than Rotenberg.

The NY State Education Departments findings:

•The Contingent Food Program and Specialized Food Program may impose unnecessary risks affecting the normal growth and development and overall nutritional/health status of students subjected to this aversive behavior intervention.

•The collateral effects (e.g., increased fear, anxiety or aggression) on students resulting from JRC’s punishment model are not adequately assessed, monitored or addressed.

Mother Jones: “School of Shock”

Rotenberg staff place the more troubled (or troublesome) residents on 1:1 status, meaning that an aide monitors them everywhere they go. For extremely violent students, the ratio is 2:1. Soon after I arrived, right before I set off on my tour, a small crowd gathered—it seemed that almost the entire hierarchy of the Rotenberg Center was going to follow me around. That’s when I realized I’d been put on 5:1.
abellve: JRC founder, Matthew Israel responds in the comments section as does MFI’s David Oaks

Boston Magazine: The Shocking Truth

Soon after that, Israel’s commune fell apart. As did a second he started in the South End…But he wasn’t ready to give up. He thought if he opened a school, he could provide the commune’s inhabitants with jobs. A self-sustaining economy might lead, ultimately, to utopia.

The Judge Rotenberg Center’s Website

September 14, 2009 at 2:56 pm 1 comment


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