[Please extend a warm welcome to my good friend Liza. -Sahar]
Children continue to be tortured in Massachusetts. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of Brandeis Students Against the Judge Rotenberg Center visiting your dorm room, the JRC is a school in Canton for people with mental disabilities. Students here are hooked to electronic devices at all times and given painful two-second skin shocks as a way of behaviorist conditioning, for infractions as small as speaking out of turn or falling asleep in class. Aversive treatment is not only inhumane, it is ineffective: students revert to former behavior once negative stimuli are removed. A statewide campaign of psychologists and disability rights activists has worked to stop this cruelty for decades.
Here’s a brief update on the efforts in the State House and at Brandeis to shut it down.
Senator Brian Joyce, a disability rights advocate who co-authored anti-JRC legislation currently in study (a.k.a. not going anywhere), put an amendment in the state budget that would regulate, but not ban, aversive shock treatment. Amendment EHS 874 is essentially the same as the “compromise” bill, S 1123, with one key difference: it permits the use of shocks for minor behaviors, only if all other forms of treatment are proven to not work. Therefore this legislation is far from perfect, but would still add a crucial level of psychologist oversight. You can read it here: http://www.mass.gov/legis/09budget/senate/amendments/ehs2.htm
The conference committee is running behind schedule, and will decide by the end of July whether or not this amendment will go to the House floor. It already passed in the Senate, a significant half-way victory. Please take a second to call Representative DeLeo, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, asking him to take action against cruelty to the disabled. Here is an optional script:
Representative Robert DeLeo: 617-722-2990
“Hello, my name is_________ and I’m from Brandeis University. I am calling to urge Representative DeLeo to support Budget Amendment EHS 874, restricting the use of cruel aversive treatment. The electric shocks used at the Judge Rotenberg Center are inhumane and unsafe, as demonstrated by the recent prank incident in which a student was wrongly shocked 77 times in three hours. This amendment offers a reasonable compromise, allowing aversive treatment in extreme cases but preventing future disasters. Please support disability rights in Massachusetts. Thank you.”
Here is another reason why Rep. DeLeo is important to this issue. While lobbying at the State House, David Emer and I had the pleasure of meeting with Representative Barbara L’Italien, a leading anti-JRC figure in the State House. She insisted that little progress can be made on this issue as long as Salvatore DiMasi remains the Speaker of the House. He is a close ally of Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, whose nephew is actually a JRC student (fyi: This was a hit at the January hearing in which Sanchez’s brother screamed, “I do not have a son: I have a retarded boy,” among other abhorrent statements). However, Representative DeLeo is a top contender to be the next Speaker. Therefore, even if legislation does not pass this time, our calls to DeLeo are still crucial to the future of disability rights.
For more information about JRC, read this Mother Jones article: http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2007/09/school_of_shock.html
or this Boston Globe article describing a single telling incident: http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2007/12/18/prank_led_school_to_treat_two_with_shock/