[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/

11 comments on “Judge Rotenberg Center Update: What You Can Do Now”

  1. Vincent Furtado Says:

    It is unfortunate that people such as yourself continue to make false assertions about the treatment that is provided at the Judge Rotenberg Center. The rumors that children receive shock therapy for speaking out or falling asleep in class is preposterous. How can you be taken seriously if you continue to spread such false information. I would be willing to bet that you have never visited the facility to see how dangerous some of the students are to themselves. It is unfortunate that people such as yourself continue to speak on issues that you know nothing about.

  2. Liza Says:

    Vincent,

    It is true that students at the Judge Rotenberg Center are often dangerous to themselves. No one is arguing that these are perfectly healthy students, ripped from their everyday lives and thoughtlessly attached to electric devices. JRC students are indeed severely mentally disabled.

    However, disabilities such as autism and mental retardation are more effectively treated through individualized counseling and carefully balanced medication. These forms of treatment, licensed psychologists agree, target dangerous behavior at the chemical and psychological roots. Aversive shock takes a backwards approach by targeting the end result of what is often an intolerable neurological condition, while neglecting the cause. B.F. Skinner, the Harvard psychologist who developed aversive therapy, himself renounced the treatment, proving that subjects react to shocks purely out of fear of punishment.

    Secondly, the “rumors” of shocks for seemingly insignificant behaviors has been confirmed by the N.Y. State Board of Education, various psychologist observers, and Mathew Israel himself, the founder of the center. You can read the N.Y. Board Report here (http://boston.com/news/daily/15/school_report.pdf) which confirms frightening truths about how these students are treated. JRC founder and director Mathew Israel argued, at a hearing before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children, Families, and People with Disabilities, that shocks for minor behaviors are necessary to the treatment. He claimed that “antecedent” behaviors like swearing or neglecting to follow directions lead to more violent behaviors, and therefore must remain legal. In an effort to compromise, budget amendment EHS 874 unfortunately still allows shocks for these behaviors.

    Lastly, Brandeis students have repeatedly attempted to visit the JRC on fair and open-minded grounds, and Mathew Israel deliberately withdrew an offer for us to visit. We students cannot help but think that Israel has something to hide from us. If the school is as humane as you say, why would he hesitate? Our group has spent an entire year researching this center, its history, the theories of acclaimed psychologists, and alternative methods. We have also spoken with parents of disabled children in and out of the JRC, former JRC students and employees, legislators, journalists, and a wide array of psychologists and educators who work to shut this center down.

    We will continue to fight the Judge Rotenberg Center because we know that more effective and humane treatments can help these students. There is no reason for cruel, primitive methods to be used in the year 2008.

  3. Liza Says:

    Vincent,

    It is true that students at the Judge Rotenberg Center are often dangerous to themselves. No one is arguing that these are perfectly healthy students, ripped from their everyday lives and thoughtlessly attached to electric devices. JRC students are indeed severely mentally disabled.

    However, disabilities such as autism and mental retardation are more effectively treated through individualized counseling and carefully balanced medication. These forms of treatment, licensed psychologists agree, target dangerous behavior at the chemical and psychological roots. Aversive shock takes a backwards approach by targeting the end result of what is often an intolerable neurological condition, while neglecting the cause. B.F. Skinner, the Harvard psychologist who developed aversive therapy, himself renounced the treatment, proving that subjects react to shocks purely out of fear of punishment.

    Secondly, the “rumors” of shocks for seemingly insignificant behaviors has been confirmed by the N.Y. State Board of Education, various psychologist observers, and Mathew Israel himself, the founder of the center. You can read the N.Y. Board Report here (http://boston.com/news/daily/15/school_report.pdf) which confirms frightening truths about how these students are treated. JRC founder and director Mathew Israel argued, at a hearing before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Children, Families, and People with Disabilities, that shocks for minor behaviors are necessary to the treatment. He claimed that “antecedent” behaviors like swearing or neglecting to follow directions lead to more violent behaviors, and therefore must remain legal. In an effort to compromise, budget amendment EHS 874 unfortunately still allows shocks for these behaviors.

    Lastly, Brandeis students have repeatedly attempted to visit the JRC on fair and open-minded grounds, and Mathew Israel deliberately withdrew an offer for us to visit. We students cannot help but think that Israel has something to hide from us. If this institution is as humane as you say, why wouldn’t he welcome us? Even without a physical visit, Brandeis Students Against the Judge Rotenberg Center has spent the last year researching the center, its history, related psychology, and suitable alternatives. We have spoken with Mr. Israel, parents of students in and out of the JRC, former students and staff, legislators, journalists, and a wide array of psychologists and educators on the issue. We know exactly what we are talking about, and would never debase ourselves to the spreading of “rumors”.
    We are students who care about upholding human rights in our own commonwealth. In the presence of humane and effective alternatives, the archaic method of cruel aversive shock treatment must stop.

  4. William Bunker Says:

    Hello Sahar. Thank you for building this blog to help advance the people of our world away from harming others and towards civility and communication. I applaud your efforts, and wish you the best of luck getting to Netroots Nation.

    I am running for Massachusetts House of Representatives from Westford, Massachusetts. My campaign page is http://www.WilliamBunker2008.blogspot.com. The video information and articles on my page may help you on your progressive journey.

    If elected I will introduce legislation to ban this treatment of humans as a violation of the 8th amendment. I expect legislation and policies to change before I get there.

  5. Valerie A. Klaassen Says:

    “I agree!” The Judge Rotenberg School ought to be shut down. Thank you for listening to me. I know this does not have anything to do with me, but I’m sick and tired of the Judge Rotenberg School, because it is too barbaric and bad for the whole entire 50 States of America. Thank you very much. I am sorry, but I am not comfortable about some people keeping the Judge Rotenberg Center Opened. I don’t like torture at all. Thank you.

    Valerie A. Klaassen

  6. ann Says:

    The students at the JRC have been treated with every other possible treatment and nothing else has worked. Please come to work at JRC and try your methods. Dr Israel has called on your community to suggest other methods that will work better.
    I’d like to know what treatments you haters would suggest for a student who has not responded to any other form of ABA, medicine, physical restraint or “communication, civility and counseling”.
    Please respond to JRC so they can try it.
    I have heard so many people in these anti-JRC blogs say that JRC tortures students and abuses them.
    Anyone who works there is a mandated reporter. If you feel that abuse is going on, then get a job there and report it. Then let the DPPC decide.
    The other aspect that a mandated reporter is required to report is neglect. That is what goes on at other schools of this sort.
    What about the places that let students keep abusing themselves? I worked at a special ed school for autistic students. When a staff asked a senior administrator, “What do we do when a student is banging their head and they won’t stop?” the staff said, “grab a mouse pad and put it under his head”. Let me just clarify that this incident did not happen at JRC.
    I worked at yet another school where two students who have a known history for physically attacking other students were left alone on one level of the house. One of the students needed stitches. Again this did not happen at JRC.
    Where is the outrage? Where is the student group to investigate? Where is press article?
    This sort of thing makes news every now and then, but when it happens at JRC you hear so much more about it.
    At one of these other schools, I witnessed staff to student abuse. After an investigation it was determined that the staff was okay to keep working with the student because it was her word against mine. At least at JRC, you have the likelihood that the abuse will be caught on camera and you can fire and prosecute the staff.
    One final thought-
    In one study I read they used many different treatments for behaviors, including punishment. 95% of the participants were successfully treated without the use of punishment.
    So what do you suggest for the other 5%? Eh, it’s only 5%, so what? Forget about ’em?

  7. Adam Hughes Says:

    ann–

    “Dr Israel has called on your community to suggest other methods that will work better.”

    What exactly does Dr. Israel mean when he talks about “your community”? Does he mean college bloggers? Because while I’m sure that anyone at Innermost Parts could come up with a better treatment solution than physical abuse, I think that the “community” that Dr. Israel should really be asking to help improve the JRC is that of disability rights advocates. Oh wait, they all strongly condemn the practice of aversive shock therapy. How about the community of licensed psychologists? Never mind, they aren’t JRC fans either (http://boston.com/news/daily/15/school_report.pdf). Maybe that’s why you don’t need to be one to work at the Center.

    If Matthew Israel is seriously concerned about the opinions of “my community”, why won’t he let us visit it like we have been petitioning for? If he wants our input so badly, why doesn’t he let us meet him on his playing field? Until he does, I have to believe his call to us is nothing more than pure grandstanding.

  8. Tom Says:

    I would like to know of some alternative programs that people have suggested to deal with adolescents exhibiting some of these behaviors.

    After reading the New York State Education Department’s investigation of JRC, available here: http://nospank.net/jrc.pdf

    it is pretty obvious to see that a lot of their goals are not upheld.

    Rather than bashing or praising JRC, i’d like to know of alternative programs that I can work with to send children with behavioral/emotional difficulties so they may receive alternative treatment.

    I sincerely hope that there are other programs out there that do not use GED adversive therapies, regardless if they work or not.

  9. Brittany Says:

    I am a former student at JRC and i went through hell there if you would like to know more you can email me some stuff is just too extreme and confidential to let it be known with my name

  10. sue Says:

    My problem is somewhat similar to what goes on with the kids at the JRC. I am an adult, and I have a severe personality disorder. I self-abused, attempted suicide and tried to kill two people. I have been medicated, hospitalized, etc. Once in the hospital they wanted to do electroconvulsive treatments on me – they shock your brain-, I guess to calm me down. What has saved me is that for the last 5 years I have been in therapy with someone that I have a great relationship with. His aversive treatment is that he has rules about what I cannot do, and if I violate them, he will not see me anymore. This is what keeps me from doing things I shouldn’t — although I guess maybe in the future I will do what I should because I want to.

  11. Kate Gladstone Says:

    Brittany — I would like to e-mail you to know more about what you went through at JRC. How can I get your e-mail address? You can e-mail me (to send your e-mail address or anything else) at handwritingrepair@gmail.com — put the word “Rotenberg” into the subject-line, so I’ll see it right away. I look forward to seeing it.