Cases of abuse of people with developmental disabilities are not new, but sadly, they rarely make the news. This week, we heard about a mother who is trying to obtain the surveillance video footage of her son's 2002 torture at the hands of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts. Cheryl McCollins wants to publicize the video of what happened to her son, but the JRC obtained a court order sealing the video.
In 2002, Andre McCollins refused to take off his jacket when asked by a JRC staff member. In response, he was tied to a restraint board face-down with a helmet on his head. They kept him there for seven hours without one break -- for food, water, or to use the bathroom. Whenever Andre screamed or tensed up, staff administered an electric shock for a total of 31 times. After three days in a comatose state, Andre was taken to Children's Hospital, where he was diagnosed with acute stress response, which is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the electric shocks.
The JRC’s lawyers asked the courts to seal the video of Andre’s torture because, according to them, the public won’t understand it outside of “context.” There is absolutely no context that can justify torture.
Even in cases with individuals with the most severe behavior problems, there are programs at other institutions with proven efficacy in reducing dangerous behaviors without using electric shocks or depriving students of food. Although experts in the developmental disabilities field have testified repeatedly against the JRC, you don’t have to be an expert to understand that what happened to Andre is torture. But the JRC doesn’t want you to believe that. They will continue to get away with their abusive practices unless someone lets the public see the video of what they did to Andre in the name of treatment.
This incident may have happened ten years ago, but the wounds are still raw and gaping. Andre hasn’t forgotten what happened to him, and neither has his mother. Andre will have no justice for as long as the JRC can bury the video of what they did to him. At its heart, this is a human rights issue. Those in positions of authority have a moral obligation to protect the rights of people like Andre against the interests of the JRC, and to let this video become public so that Andre can finally have justice. The video of his torture at the JRC needs to be released to the public, and it needs to be released now.
You can read about Andre's story here: http://www.myfoxboston.com/dpp/news/undercover/teen-tied-and-shocked-for-hours-mom-calls-it-torture-20120219
The JRC is the only institution in America that still uses electric shock aversives as a means of "therapy" for its residents. Their aversive interventions also include food deprivation, restraint, and seclusion. The United Nations condemned the JRC's practices, and the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into their activities in 2010 after several reports of the activities of the JRC. For close to three decades, advocates have tried to close the institution, but have repeatedly failed to successfully pass legislation to end the use of aversives. Massachusetts's Department of Developmental Services enacted regulations in late 2011 that prohibit the use of the electric shocks on any newly admitted student, but which grandfather in any student who was court-approved to receive the shocks before their enactment. The JRC is still operating, and for them, it's business as usual. They don't want the public to see what they do, because they know that the public will know intuitively and correctly that what they do is not treatment; it's torture.
Advocates of disability rights who oppose restraint, seclusion, and aversives have long held that restraint, seclusion, and aversives are ONLY appropriate as a one-time, temporary and emergency response to a specific situation, as a last resort, where there is an immediate and imminent threat of harm to self or others. In this respect, aversives can be necessary as a last resort and as an emergency and temporary measure. They have no proven efficacy in the long-term to reduce and eliminate problematic behaviors such as self-harm or hurting others or destroying property. If they did, then why would some JRC residents still be there after five or ten years, or more, and still have the same behavioral profile, and still be receiving the electric shocks? The answer is that they wouldn't. The JRC claims that its techniques save lives; this is misleading and dangerous. Aversives have no efficacy as a long-term treatment, and can cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and otherwise be very emotionally damaging to people subjected to their use.
You can read more about the JRC and restraint and seclusion and aversives issues at http://www.autismeducationproject.org including reports from a number of government and non-profit organizations.
The petition writers are Emily Titon (TASH, AutCom, ASAN) and Lydia Brown (ASAN).