At a “special needs school” in Canton, Massachusetts, children and teenagers with autism and other disabilities are being administered electric shocks as a means of controlling their behaviors. As a former Teacher’s Assistant, I regret having participated firsthand at this school - The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC).
The human rights abuses taking place at the JRC are well documented. The United Nations is aware of the JRC and has called these shocks “torture”, and says that “The prohibition of torture is absolute.” Yet the school continues to use a powerfully painful electric shock device on students to control their behaviors. These devices are reportedly much stronger than police stun guns and were created by the founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center.
The Judge Rotenberg Center must immediately stop its practice of shocking special needs students.
Rather than shocking students for only severe behaviors, student behavior plans at JRC dictated that we shock certain students for even the most minor of behavioral issues like closing their eyes for 15 seconds while sitting at the desk, pulling apart a loose piece of thread, tearing an empty used paper cup, or for standing up and raising a hand to ask to go to the bathroom. In some classrooms, very often students who observe their peers being shocked react in fear by standing up out of their seat, yelling or crying, or throwing down their task -- and are then shocked for these reactions.
A non-verbal nearly blind girl with cerebral palsy was shocked as part of her behavioral plan for making a moaning sound and for attempts to hold a staff’s hand (her attempts to communicate and to be loved).
In 2002, 18 year-old Andre McCollins was strapped down and shocked for hours at the JRC. He begged for the shocks to stop and when they did, he was left in a catatonic state for days which resulted in permanent damage. Video of Andre’s shock treatment was sealed until recently and you can view it here.
The JRC’s founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, resigned after being charged with misleading a grand jury by destroying video footage of other students being shocked.
Not only does the JRC need to immediately stop this practice but Massachusetts legislators need to make these shock procedures illegal. These students are among Massachusetts’ most vulnerable citizens and have no voice of their own to describe their pain. They need your help.
Demand that the JRC stop shocking students now!
The UN's special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, has called for a formal investigation into the torture on students with disabilities that takes place in the JRC, and has opened discussions with the US mission to the UN in Geneva as a first step towards investigating the school.
Debunking JRC’s Top Seven Untruths:
1. Untruth: Shocks and other major aversives are only used rarely (i.e. "once per week") and only for severe behaviors.
Truth: Based on multiple former JRC staff reports, non-verbal students are often shocked 20 – 30 times per day with the same devices seen used on Andre McCollins on video shown recently on Fox News and CNN. Some students become so injured with burns and scabs all over their bodies that they have to have their devices removed for 4 – 5 weeks to allow their skin to heal up. JRC staff refer to these as “GED vacations”.
2. Untruth: JRC’S shock devices are approved by the FDA and therefore prove to be safe.
Truth: The shock devices used at the JRC have not been FDA approved. Only in late May has the JRC removed that claim from their website after falsely advertising it since 1994. They were exposed on TV by Anderson Cooper 360 (CNN). You can see the bloody scabs in the video on Change.Org.
3. Untruth: The 'behaviors' of students at the JRC are so severe that electric shocks save their lives.
Truth: Students are reportedly shocked for minor behaviors, such as standing out of their seat for any reason, tearing any objects including an empty used paper cup, nagging, and swearing, as well as refusing to take off one’s jacket as seen on TV. Children with these sorts of challenges are not unique to the JRC. There are many alternatives that could be and are used around the world, but most JRC staff have not had training or experience to know otherwise.
4. Untruth: JRC’s skin shock treatment is based on scientific studies published in credible peer-review journals.
Truth: A director of research at Yale University recently appeared on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 and stated that he and his partner could not find any peer reviewed studies in any credible sources that supported the use of JRC’s methods.
5. Untruth: JRC has always had a team of licensed psychologists responsible for making student behavioral plans including shock treatments.
Truth: At one point, JRC was fined large sums of money after it was discovered that many posing as psychologists were not licensed as claimed.
6. Untruth: Judge know and approve all individual behaviors for which students are shocked.
Truth: Although a Massachusetts judge always approves the use of GED shocks for a student, blanket permission is given which allows the JRC to freely add and delete specific behaviors for which students are shocked without further permission from the judge.
7. Untruth: Parents give an informed consent prior to their children being approved for shocks.
Truth: Cheryl McCollins testified that she had no idea that the JRC tortured and abused students until she saw her son on video tied up and shocked 31 times for refusing to take off his jacket, landing her son in the hospital for five weeks in a catatonic state. Parents may never know that their non-verbal child was shocked for standing up to give staff a hug, to ask to go to the bathroom, or in reaction to a student getting shocked and screaming next to them, among many other examples of abuse and torture for which loving parents would never give their consent.
The JRC’s deceit has existed for long enough.