Judge Rotenberg Center banned from shocking new admissions

14 Nov

The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) has is a special needs school in Massachusetts which employs electric shocks as part of its program on a subset of its students. This practice is controversial, to put it mildly.

With thanks to Kate Gladstone for bringing this to my attention, the JRC has been banned from including these aversives on future students.

The letter below is from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) Disability Rights International which goes into more detail.

JRC Banned from Shocking New Admissions

Dear Supporters,

This week we can celebrate a major victory against torture of people with disabilities in the United States. The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) adopted new regulations last week that greatly restrict the intentional use of pain as a form of treatment – including the use of electric shock, seclusion, and restraints on young children and adults with disabilities. As documented by a recent report by Disability Rights International (DRI), Torture Not Treatment, The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), based in Canton, Massachusetts, has used these practices, called “aversive treatment” for decades.

Facilities licensed by the DDS in Massachusetts can no longer subject new admissions to severe behavioral interventions including electric shock, long-term restraint, or aversives that pose risk for psychological harm — in other words, mainstays of JRC’s “treatment” program.US Report Cover

No other institution in the country – or the world, as far as we can tell – uses such barbaric practices. DRI’s investigation found that the pain caused by this is so severe and outside accepted professional norms, that these practices constitute nothing less than torture. By permitting such treatment, the United States violates its obligations under international law, as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture. DRI filed our report, Torture Not Treatment, in 2010 as an urgent appeal to the United Nations. The top official on torture at the United Nations agreed with DRI, and when asked by ABC Nightline if the practices were torture, he declared, “Yes…I have no doubts about it. It is inflicted in a situation where a victim is powerless…a child in the restraint chair, being then subjected to electric shocks, how more powerless can you be?”

We applaud Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on taking a courageous stand by issuing an executive order for the Massachusetts DDS to review their policies regarding electric shock and other severe aversives.

The resulting new policy puts an end to the use of JRC’s electric shocks on new admissions. But we can’t declare success yet. While hundreds of children will be spared from JRC’s behavioral experiments in the future, the new policies do not stop JRC from shocking and causing psychological damage to children already placed in the center. These children and young adults remain prisoners in a very dangerous environment. The center has been repeatedly investigated for suspicious deaths and physical abuse. JRC has been fined for identifying some clinicians hired by the school as psychologists, when in fact, they were not licensed psychologists. And as a result of an investigation into a case of abuse at the facility, JRC’s director was forced to resign earlier this year after being charged with misleading a grand jury about the investigation.

DRI is encouraged by the bold statement by the US National Council on Disabilities, a federal advisory body, which cited DRI’s report, as well as the international definition of torture, to call for the use of painful shock aversives to be brought to an end.

DRI urges the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration to fullfil its obgligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. DRI calls for a blanket ban on the use of electric shock as aversive treatment for children or adults with disabilities across the nation. There is nothing stopping JRC from shocking kids already in their center — or moving their facility to a different state to avoid the new Massachusetts regulations. The Department of Justice has an open investigation into the treatment of children at JRC. We ask you to write a personal appeal to the investigators to help ensure that this torture is put to an end once and for all, and is never allowed to be duplicated anywhere else in the United States.

We are one large step closer.

Thank you for your continued support,

Laurie Signature

Laurie Ahern,

Eric R Sig

Eric Rosenthal,
Executive Director

22 Responses to “Judge Rotenberg Center banned from shocking new admissions”

  1. Shanna November 14, 2011 at 22:42 #

    Is there a place more specific to write to or should you just write a letter to the Department of Justice? Is it National or Massachusetts?

  2. Jackie November 15, 2011 at 00:27 #

    Do you think that anyone in Massachusetts cares what the UN or anyone thinks or does? How many years? How may known crimes? How many deaths?

    Too much money to care…

  3. Ari Ne'eman November 15, 2011 at 02:51 #

    This is actually from Disability Rights International, not the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. We just forwarded it along to an ASAN listserv. Sorry for any confusion! :)

    • Sullivan November 15, 2011 at 02:57 #

      Ari Ne’eman,

      thanks for that. I’ve corrected the text (and I’ll endeavor to read closer next time)

  4. Anne November 15, 2011 at 03:12 #

    Likely litigation will ensue, as it did in New York, where JRC challenged the NY Education Department’s similar regulations as unconstitutional.

  5. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. November 15, 2011 at 04:15 #

    Okay. Part 1 of the battle seems to be going good. How to we get the ‘old admissions’ out of there?

  6. Clay November 15, 2011 at 18:43 #

    Nice to see some good news, for a change. Will be even happier when JRC is shut down, and certain people go to jail for the torture that occurred there.

  7. stanley seigler November 15, 2011 at 21:22 #

    @Jackie … re: Do you think that anyone in Massachusetts cares what the UN or anyone thinks or does? How many years? How may known crimes? How many deaths?…Too much money to care


    yes some in MA care…but as with the rest of the USA and world…we dont care enough…MA dept of developmental services (DDS) filed several suits to prohibit aversives…maybe close JRC…a DDS director lost job as a result of this activism.

    JRC has strong support from MA legislators…well at least one leg who has a relative in JRC…see mother jones 2007 article re JRC…

    the too much money comment escapes me.


    ps. full disclosure NOT a resident of MA.

  8. stanley seigler November 16, 2011 at 02:45 #

    @DNA…re: “Okay. Part 1 of the battle seems to be going good. How to we get the ‘old admissions’ out of there?”

    “going good”…a step forward…better than nothing: but it makes absolutely NO sense…it’s OK to continue torturing ‘old admissions’ and not OK to torture new admissions…crazy world…

    where do legs come up with this dumb-a reasoning…


  9. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. November 16, 2011 at 03:47 #

    with you on that, Clay!

  10. stanley seigler November 17, 2011 at 16:53 #


    a message has been submitted several times over the last few days…it is not posted…

    this seems to be SOP for many of my messages…if there is a suggestion here…ie, that my messages are not appropriate for LBRB, pls just say so…i dont read between lines or get subtle suggestions well…

    if appropriate pls post latest and delete others…



    ps. no problem, i will understand, if my posts are inappropiate.

    • Sullivan November 17, 2011 at 21:02 #

      stanley seigler,

      I don’t know why your comments are ending up in the spam queue so often. There was a time when I had the time and the amount of spam was low enough that I could go through the messages flagged as potential spam. I just can’t now. (for example, we currently have 12,000 comments in that queue).

  11. stanley seigler November 18, 2011 at 02:31 #


    not a problem…not to worry.

    • Sullivan November 18, 2011 at 03:18 #

      Just keep reminding me when they go into the ether, and I’ll keep pulling them out.

  12. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. November 24, 2011 at 08:38 #

    Stanley: “where do legs come up with this dumb-a reasoning…”

    I have absolutely no idea. But I’m surprised the dozey bastards still get voted in. Certainly isn’t making the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts look very clever….

  13. stanley seigler May 8, 2012 at 23:23 #

    how could i be so wrong about JRC…just look at their web page…it’s a beautiful place…


    tho this an extreme example of truth v mad ad hype…its a warning re all program advertisements…and promotional science…

  14. McD May 9, 2012 at 09:55 #

    just as a matter of interest. And totally accepting the recently revealed outrageous abuses where an incapacitated inmate was repeatedly shocked in the absence of a precipitating response (this totally destroys any confidence that any decent behavior analysts have in this place being legit in any way – seriously JRC got dumped big time in the field).

    Does anybody think that any form of punishment is justified in the treatment of symptoms of autism?

    And I am saying this in the face of the obvious failure of the main proponent of punishment as a form of treatment. And as a mother of a severely autistic child (Maybe prejudicing the answers here) whom I could never consider using aversives with, with the advantage of hindsight.

    But I had the advantage of education and recognition of my son’s symptoms very early. He appeared to be at risk of self harmful behaviors at a very early age, and had I not been suspicious so early, and intervened so early, eye-poking and scratching and other behaviors may have been deeply entrenched. Cripes, had I not gone private, and had waited on the list for assessment, we would have been 14 months further along before assessment. And I am serious. He was really poking his eyes – the theory was that it sparked off some sort of visual stimulus for him. He was digging his fingers in to the second knuckle.

    So if we had not been lucky, and had a boy poking his eyes out as a long-standing habit, would use of JRC type aversives be an option? Would we drug him up with something to stop him self harming?

    What did JRC do wrong?

    Did they use aversives when instead they should have drugged the kids up to the eyeballs, or

    Did they use aversives wrong?

    Should they have only used aversives contingent on self-harmful or violent (only) behavior?

    Or should they have allowed autistics to self destruct?

    Or should they have just drugged up up the violent kids so they had no actual life, and left them in a corner?

    Or did what they did – once they had approval to use aversives on a child, they went nuts and threw the principles of behavior analysis (and human decency) out the window – Skinner would be vomiting in his grave.

    or some other thing?

    Just don’t tell me my 18 month old would have outgrown his eyepoking. I have seen too many teenage self-mutilators to know that “outgrowing” it is public servant pabulum.

    I guess what I am trying to say, is, is you could erase the JRC from the equation, is there a place for aversives with severely self-harming kids, or do we just drug them up.

  15. stanley seigler May 9, 2012 at 23:43 #

    @McD: “I guess what I am trying to say, is, is you could erase the JRC from the equation, is there a place for aversives with severely self-harming kids, or do we just drug them up.”


    aversives have been illegal in CA since the mid 80s…JRC “erased from the equation”…ie, JRC (then BRI) closed its CA shop and went back to MA.

    and there have been no attempts to repeal the law. i cannot point to specific programs…but;

    believe an individual program plan (IPP) with 1:1, 24/7, support could be devised for the $200-250,000 JRC charges.

    it’s not either/or…JRC (aversives) or drug em up.

  16. McD May 10, 2012 at 03:09 #

    Fair enough, but as I understand it, many of the JRC students have failed on intensive positive only plans. Before JRC there were Lobotomies and ECT and other terrible treatments.

    I do take your point, that having the aversives option does create the illusion of a quick easy fix, and maybe reduce the effort put into an intensive positive program.

  17. stanley seigler May 10, 2012 at 04:47 #

    “there were lobotomies before JRC”…surely you dont credit JRC with the demise of lobotomies, etc…JRC is another terrible, indefensible, program…it’s one of an inexcusable kind…

    butbutt, not sure that some promotional scientific programs are not just as harmful in a benign, long term, less obvious, way…sad there are many who care more about profits than our children and friends.

    complaints re JRC is conscience salve for lack of developing “intensive positive programs”

  18. Horrified Grandma June 27, 2015 at 12:26 #

    This article was written 4 years ago, yet those helpless terrified kids continue to be tormented 24 hours a day! Not a damn thing has been done.
    It’s been 5 years since the UN condemned the JRC for torturing disabled children. Yet the abuse and shocks continue.
    Judge Rotenberg Center. 40 years of torturing disabled children. 6 murdered children. Video and audio proof of burns, wounds, taunts, laughing, mocking, starvation, electrocution, chemical torture, assault, rape, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, food deprivation, medical deprivation. Multiple eye witness accounts by reporters, staff, and former concentration “school” survivors. International condemnation. U.N. condemnation of this child-torture. Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity. Destruction of evidence, coverup of criminal child abuse, flight from justice by it’s founder. Why haven’t all these defenseless children been liberated? Why hasn’t this hell-hole of Sadistic depravity been closed down? Where is the Swat Team? Where are the Trauma Councelors? Why has no one been arrested? Why hasn’t every single twisted psychopath “doctor” and employee ever involved with this place been arrested? Why has no one been put on trial? Where is Justice? Torturing and abusing defenseless disabled kids needs to end. NOW.


  1. Judge Rotenberg Center banned from shocking new admissions « StopJRC - March 5, 2012

    […] Judge Rotenberg Center banned from shocking new admissions: http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/2011/11/judge-rotenberg-center-banned-from-shocking-new-admissions… […]

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