Painful electric shock at the push of a button. Hours of restraint and seclusion. Food and sleep deprivation. But this is not Guantánamo or Abu Ghraib. This is a "school" for disabled children and youth.
These are only some of the practices of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts. The JRC, which has been open since 1971, is most well known by disability advocates and human rights activists for their controversial philosophy of "treatment" for people with developmental, intellectual, and psychiatric disabilities that dictates that pain and punishment should be used to change unwanted (and sometimes simply inconvenient) behavior. Their philosophy of treatment is that if a student does something they don't want them to be doing, staff should press a button and zap the student with an electric shock designed to be more powerful and painful than a police taser. The JRC is the only facility that uses this type of punishment.
This is not treatment. This is torture.
In 2012, a case against the JRC brought by the mother of a former student went to trial in Massachusetts. During testimony, the plaintiffs showed surveillance video of Andre McCollins receiving thirty-one shocks over a period of seven hours while restrained face-down, all for the offense of not wanting to take off his jacket. Most of the subsequent shocks were for tensing up or screaming. Earlier, the JRC's founder and executive director Matthew Israel was forced to resign in a plea agreement for destroying evidence against court orders after an incident in 2007 when a prank call led to staff shocking two students 77 and 29 times respectively over a period of three hours.
Dozens of international disability rights organizations, as well as both the previous and current U.N. Special Rapporteurs on Torture, have condemned the JRC's practices as torture. The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division has been investigating the JRC for violating the rights of their students. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned the JRC for using unapproved devices. Massachusetts's Department of Developmental Services banned the use of the GED electric shock device on any students admitted after September 2011. In December 2012, U.S. Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services sent the Massachusetts state government a letter prohibiting any federal Medicaid funds from going to any person living in a facility using electric shock aversives, even if that person isn't being shocked. In February 2013, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick instructed the attorney general to file a motion to end the thirty-year-old court order that the JRC has been using to legally justify their use of "aversives." The New York State Education Department, which issued a scathing report in 2006, issued another letter in March 2013 prohibiting the use of the GED electric shock devices on any New York state student.
Furthermore, while there is extant empirical evidence in support of alternative forms of treatment and intervention for severe behavioral problems that do not use painful aversives, the JRC has never published any peer-reviewed, randomized controlled trial demonstrating any long-term effectiveness, let alone superiority, of their skin shock "treatment." The JRC's model of "treatment" bears no support in contemporary scientific literature, though it is similar to the methods used in abusive environments that tend to develop in unscrupulous "troubled teen programs," prisons, and other coercive situations.
There is no medical or moral reason that the JRC should be permitted to continue its practices, but Gemino's decision to provide significant financial support for the JRC reflects a lack of interest in the wellbeing of disabled people. In Gemino's own public statement, Director Rob Misener described the JRC as "an important organization" providing a "truly inspiring" "level of dedication and care." Mr. Misener also said that Gemino will "look forward to supporting their mission into the future." The JRC's mission is the eradication of any undesirable behavior or characteristic from the disabled people residing in the institution through the brutal use of force, pain, and fear.
Gemino's financial support of the JRC will only enable the institution to devastate more lives and commit appalling abuse against the disabled people entrusted to its "care." There are many worthwhile organizations and service provision agencies that support disabled people, including those with the most significant disabilities, without the use of violence and abuse.
Gemino has taken the unusual step of blocking Change.org's server so that no emails are being sent from Change.org to the targets of the petition, as would normally be the case.
If you want Gemino's executives to hear our message, navigate to the petition's home page and scroll down to the part containing the letter (immediately after the links to JRC related information). Copy and paste the petition letter into an email to all of the following recipients:
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
That way, your email will land directly into the inboxes of the decision-makers. Let them hear the voice of our community! Torture is absolutely unacceptable and is most definitely not healthcare.
You can see some of the past news coverage and reports documenting the JRC's history of abuse here:
- Mother Jones: School of Shock, 2007