The Judge Rotenberg Center

26 May

As we tootle about our lives we are sometimes unaware of the full horror of the human experience and how barbarity often exists justs out of sight. For people who are adjudged as needing to receive ‘treatments’, barbarity is in plain sight all the time.

The Judge Rotenberg Centre (note the happy colours) describes itself as:

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center (JRC) is a special needs school in Canton, Massachusetts serving both higher-functioning students with conduct, behavior, emotional, and/or psychiatric problems and lower-functioning students with autistic-like behaviors

Wait for the animated gif to revolve a few times. Note the happy faces of the students. Note the lovely grounds.

The JRC achieves its results by administering an electric shock to its students when they are in need of corrective action. Students carry around backpacks to ensure they are close to the source of the corrective action. The device/process is called ‘GED’ – Graduated Electronic Decelerator.

Massachusetts Division of Public Licensure is investigating reports of burns to the skin of at least one student. A former worker claimed that JRC staff failed to move the electrodes each day as required to keep from burning the boy’s skin. Director Matthew Israel states that:

Our skin shock device does not cause burns when it is applied. Very, very occasionally, a device might cause a superficial mark on the skin, from which the skin recovers quickly.


A ‘superficial mark’. Right. I guess ‘superficial’ might be in the eye of the beholder Mr Israel. Or, in this case, the skin of a young man.

The JRC also has an interesting take on diet – from its ‘foods to avoid’ section:

1. Avoid all red meat, including beef, pork, and lamb. All are rich in fat, cholesterol, and other harmful constituents.
2. Avoid all poultry and fish. Poultry has about the same amount of cholesterol as red meat, while fish varies, depending on type. Some fish are higher in cholesterol than red meat, others lower.
3. Avoid all dairy products, including milk, yogurt and cheese. Low-fat dairy products are not recommended because of potential health hazards including allergies, childhood diabetes, arthritis and lactose intolerance.
4. Avoid all oil, including olive, safflower, peanut and corn oil. Oil is simply a liquid form of fat.
5. Avoid eggs. Eggs are abundant in fat and cholesterol.
6. Avoid nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and soybean products (including tofu, soy cheese, and soy milk). Soybean products are high in fat, unless they have been specially processed (low-fat varieties are also not recommended).
7. Avoid all dried fruit and fruit juices. (Eat the whole fruit instead).
8. Avoid all flour products, such as breads, bagels and pretzels. The less a food is processed the better it is for weight loss. Flour products are composed of fragments of grain, or relatively small particles, which increase absorption and slow weight loss.

And then from an ex-employee:

A 12-year-old autistic girl wasted away to a “bag of bones” under a harsh dietary regime imposed by the controversial Judge Rotenberg Center for troubled kids, a former employee charges.


The JRC has also made the news recently by lying about its staff.

The Boston Herald reported Wednesday that the Massachusetts Division of Public Licensure is investigating at least 10 JRC therapists for allegedly practicing psychology without a license. The allegations were initially made by New York lawyer Kenneth Mollins, who complained last week that 14 of the 17 clinicians listed on the residential school’s website are not licensed psychologists. After Mollins’ allegations became public, JRC removed the title of psychologist from the names of all of its therapists that do not have licenses. “We have acknowledged we were giving the incorrect title,” JRC attorney Michael Flammia told the Herald. A district court magistrate will decide next week whether criminal charges will be filed against the 10 therapists and possibly four others that are also under investigation.


These are just the things that have been discovered.

My fellow Brit, Mike Stanton blogged about the JRC back in April. Amongst the commenters was someone calling themselves ‘Jackie’. Jackie had the following to say:

The director of JRC encourages staff members to use electroshock to quitting smoking, makes staff members watch slaughter house movies as a condition of their advancement, and is starving some of the patients who can not thrive on his radical vegetarian diet.


The worst shock punishment is when staff straps a child to a board and tell her that she will be shocked randomly five times in the next hour. Here the ultimate punishment is not the shock but the hour long terror.


However, the worst punishment is when food is withheld from a child for bad behavior. Every child’s behavior deteriorates when food is withheld so JRC becomes directly responsible for the behavior for which the child is being punished.

Director Matthew Israel seems to be a fairly typical quack. When challenged to present evidence for his aversive-based regime he says:

Our mission is to function as a school, or service agency, and not as a research agency. Indeed, the funds we receive for our services are not supposed to be spent on research.

Which is a fairly standard altie method of avoiding the necessity for validating quackery. Israel goes on to cite the NIH ‘Treatment of Destructive Behaviors in Persons With Developmental Disabilities’ statement from 1987 as supporting his practices. However upon visiting the page in question one finds a large disclaimer in bold, red, emphasised, uppercase type:


I can find next to nothing in Pubmed regarding aversive based treatments.

However, one of the most disturbing aspects of the JRC is the readiness with which it is embraced by its students parents. the JRC maintains a blog in which it posts messages of support from students parents. None of the students views are represented. A typical example is below:

_”Before placing my daughter Julissa at JRC, I suffered tremendously because of her behaviors. She did not obey my rules, she did not listed to me, and she used to go out without permission. When she returned home and I tried to talk to her, she used to get very angry and hit me. When she did something wrong and I tried to give her advice, it was for nothing because she did not listed. One time, she even took money from me without me knowing. She took my ATM card, and since she knew my pin number, she took out $700.00 dollars that I was saving for that month’s rent. At home, we hardly ever slept. My other daughter, my granddaughter, and I were very nervous because of Jusissa’s behaviors.”_

_”Julissa was admitted to the Metropolitan Hospital in two occasions. Also, she was admitted once at Holewood Hospital in Queens. Every time she left the hospitals and returned home, she exhibited the same behaviors.”_

_”Even though my daughter was admitted into two different hospitals and was placed into different treatments, and many prescribed medications, nothing really helped her. I give my testimony of faith that nothing has been better than the treatment or better said the discipline that JRC school has.”_

This sounds (to me) like a naughty girl. But a girl deserving of the sort of regime described above? Electro therapy because a child wouldn’t follow her mother’s rules? On what grounds are these good criteria for this regime?

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a joke. Unfortunately its not.

265 Responses to “The Judge Rotenberg Center”

  1. ann July 6, 2006 at 19:05 #

    since everybody in here who is anti-JRC is so willing to believe everything they read in the media, here is a little article for your consideration.

    I would love to believe this article hook line and sinker but I am exercising philosophic doubt.

    So what does it have to do with JRC? JRC is against using meds to control behaviors. If it is true, it helps bolster JRC’s philosophy.

    Yes, I know that, in your eyes anyway, it doesn’t have anything to do with JRC. However, haven’t I been arguing that all you fans of finding out the cause of behaviors should get to the cause of why all these schools are failing and referring their students to JRC?

    Oh I dream of the day when all these places who tout how great their ABA programs are, are not allowed to use drugs anymore. If my current employer is told that drugs are not allowed and they will actually have to rely on a behavior analysis method, I would just sit back and enjoy it. They might actually have to work on interventions rather than just going to the psychiatrist.

  2. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 7, 2006 at 17:47 #

    Ann: “BTW David, I found you posting in another anti-JRC blog and you mentioned my name. I didn’t know you thought about me that much.”

    Don’t flatter yourself… No, really. Don’t.

    Ann: “That as many as 10% of the top experts in Positive Behavior Supports would use contingent electric shock in certain circumstances is an astounding finding. Of those who said that skin shock was appropriate in certain circumstances. 100% of these said that skin shock was effective, and 83% said it was supported in the literature.”

    See that, readers? Yet again, she shows that she has not read what has been written. There may well be a million studies as to support for the skin shock method of doing things: our main objection here is *ethical*, although I do (from a psychological viewpoint) have a serious issue with punishment as the sole way of changing behaviour, and especially as first resort.

    Ann, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to care; presumably, I could waltz into her home or place of work and just decide to implement a training programme upon anyone and everyone, without any consent (express or implied) and expect her to uphold my work as ethical, since that is what the use of the GED at the JRC amounts to. No way on earth can Ann manage to convince me that the kids there are hooked up to these devices under fully informed consent! Simply because they are not.

    Ann… you haven’t added anything to alter my views as a jobbing ed-psych. I’m pleased that JRC doesn’t like meds. That in and of itself doesn’t make up for the unethical use of punishment-based regimes the way that it was described by the NYSED panel.

    Don’t like it, Ann? Now ask me if I give a shit about you not liking it. Not sure you can really claim to give a shit about the kids you were happy to see go punished for outbursts clearly brought on by a fellow staff member… because if you did, you would have definitely stopped that member of staff before the outburst even happened. Which, according to your account, you completely failed to do. Instead, you watched it happen, and then reported the member later (if I recall correctly). Did you have to wait so you could enjoy it first, and then feign conscience later?

    Not very good, Ann, are you?

  3. ann July 10, 2006 at 18:34 #

    DAVID: Not sure you can really claim to give a shit about the kids you were happy to see go punished for outbursts clearly brought on by a fellow staff member… because if you did, you would have definitely stopped that member of staff before the outburst even happened.

    You do realize you are referring to something that did not happen at JRC?

    DAVID: Instead, you watched it happen, and then reported the member later (if I recall correctly).

    Apparently you don’t recall it correctly.

    I found an article which you might not like. This article mentions a couple things that no other article mentions. I have highlighted these snippets below. Caps added for emphasis.

    “Israel started the school in 1971, in Providence, R.I., eventually moving to Canton, renaming itself after a Bristol County judge who approved a settlement in which THE STATE PAID $580,000 AFTER {it} UNSUCCESSFULLY SOUGHT TO CLOSE THE SCHOOL. That was after the 1985 death of a 22-year-old student who suffered a seizure while restrained and forced to listen to static noise.”


    “In 1997, THE STATE PAID $1.5 MILLION to settle a lawsuit after the state’s highest court found that the then-head of the Department of Mental Retardation WAGED A CAMPAIGN OF DISINFORMATION in an effort to close the school because he opposed the skin-shock therapy. ”

    The full article can be found by going to the following:

    Twice in the past there has been campaigns of misinformation waged in order to try to get JRC closed. This is happening again.

  4. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 10, 2006 at 23:17 #

    Ann: “You do realize you are referring to something that did not happen at JRC?”

    So you admit to not being specific?

    Bad failing for an ex-employee of JRC where specifics are valued so highly…..

    You’re useless, Ann… give up now.

  5. ALEXIUS July 11, 2006 at 02:58 #

    DAVID: So you admit to not being specific?
    ~Just for clarification David, I think Ann was specific. First she said;
    Ann: “I have witnessed many accounts of incidents at my current school where little details are left out. For example, one student had to be restrained. The staff member just forgot to mention that she was yelling at the student to “be quiet””.
    ~See the part above where she said “my current school”. Since Ann is a former JRC staff and not current. Current school would be the equivalent of saying “not JRC”. And then you said;
    DAVID: “What??? A staff member yelled at a child to be quiet and you think that such a thing would not kick a child off???? If you can even reason that it might have, why did that not get said in any report? What did you do about that? You allowed a child to be restrained because a staff member brought about an explosive incident, and you stood by and let it happen???”
    ~By your response, Ann suspects that you may think she is talking about JRC. So she reiterates bellow;
    Ann: “No I didn’t. Did you read what I wrote? …This did NOT happen at JRC. I just want to make that clear”.
    ~ seems pretty specific. Don’t you think? That’s ok, no need to thank me David. Just doing my part to clear things up.

  6. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 11, 2006 at 18:51 #

    Alexius: “That’s ok, no need to thank me David.”

    That’s okay. Wasn’t going to.

  7. ann July 15, 2006 at 11:26 #


    I found out recently that my CURRENT EMPLOYER (NOTJRC) has violated labor laws.

    So if you were me, you would report this right?

    BTW, IF, and I do mean IF sometimes I don’t give specific details, which was not the case in the above argument, (thanks Alexius, I’m certainly willing to say it) do you think that it might be because I risk exposing myself and I really don’t want to do that?

    The thing is I don’t feel the need to report it because they have revealed that they made a mistake and they have taken steps to remedy it. If I reported it, it would be for no other reason than to see them have to go through what JRC is going through. I’m not a vengeful person.

    DAVID:”You’re useless, Ann”

    My goodness. That amounts to verbal abuse. I thought you were all about being positive. Would you talk to your students that way? You haven’t represented yourself as a person who is a strict believer in using positive only methods.

    Behavior is a scientific field. Emotion shouldn’t enter into science. You are letting your emotions get the best of you.

  8. mike stanton July 15, 2006 at 18:04 #

    Violation of labour laws is not the same as violation of human rights.
    But to continue the comparison your present employer has admitted its error and is seeking to rectify the situation. JRc refuses to admit that what they are doing is wrong. Instead they and their apologists seek to justify it with appeals to emotion because there is no justifiication for their behaviour in behavioural science. The following example of emotional appeals ought to be familiar to you.

    When your child is gouging his rectum 250 times a day, then you can judge. When your child is scratching his arm til the bone is exposed, then you can judge. When your child is head banging themselves into a coma, then you can judge.

    Then in response to this comment from Kev
    KEV:To be quite frank, in this case I think (legislators) probably do.
    we had this reasoned and unemotional response.
    Good. Then you can let the govt make all your decisions for you. Let’s let the govt make all our decisions for us. Let’s let them get involved with personal family issues like abortion, euthanasia, and medical treatments. Why don’t we let the govt tell us what we can and can’t say and where we can live?

    Actually I would be deeply disturbed by anyone involved in science who believed that there was no place for emotion. When scientists act without reference to their commonality with the rest of humanity, we get the sort of inhumane treatments that have been all too frequent within the realm of psychiatry in its short history.

    In its aspiration to be accepted as a science, psychiatry has often attempted a clinical detachment that objectifies its patients, stripping them of their humanity as a justification for treatments that are not merely abuses of the system. They are integral to the system in place.

    JRC is probably unique because it trumpets such abuse as a virtue while others operate behind a facade of respect for human rights. The most depressing thing about the recent report was that it did not condemn the techniques that were used at JRC as abusive in themselves. It merely condemned alleged abuses of those techniques.

    JRC is more mainstream than we would like to believe 😦

  9. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 15, 2006 at 23:17 #

    Ann: “You are letting your emotions get the best of you.”

    Given your lack of intervention when your *emotions* should have told you to do so… who the fuck are *you* to lecture *me* on my emotions and whether or not they are getting in the way?

    Incidentally, Ann… in case you had ignored it when you went to whatever place you called “college”…. psychology – as a behavioural science – is about behaviour, and the cognition AND emotions which lie behind it.

    If you can’t handle that, get the fuck out of this, and let someone in who has conscience enough to understand that!

    Siis niinku, Dah!

  10. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 15, 2006 at 23:49 #


    A wonderful exposition of the denial of the role of emotion in psychiatry…. and how “science” tries to underplay the role of emotion, when in fact it should recognise it and deal with it…

    … instead of being as cowardy as it is in denying its role in how people function.

    Your BEd really *does* do what it says on the tin… given the true meaning of education…..

    I’m actually inspired to get my BEd (in Educational Psychology) from Oulu University (who passed me on to the University of Birmingham), purely because of you having yours!

    Again… thanks…..

  11. mike stanton July 16, 2006 at 00:26 #

    thank you for your kind words. As a matter of fact my BEd had very little to do with my current opinions on psychiatry, apart from my having to define my position in opposition to the accepted wisdom presented on the course. ( 1979-1983 for historical context )

  12. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 16, 2006 at 07:35 #

    Mike: “… apart from my having to define my position in opposition to the accepted wisdom presented on the course.”

    That in itself shows guts and determination … 🙂

    As for the words… you’re very welcome 😀

    And… 1979-1983… yeh, grim times…. Twat-cher’s Britain…. :/

  13. ann July 17, 2006 at 21:45 #

    Mike:Violation of labour laws is not the same as violation of human rights.

    No argument. I can go into great length about the violations of human rights that occur at my present employer as soon as I’m no longer employed there.

    Mike: But to continue the comparison your present employer has admitted its error and is seeking to rectify the situation.

    They have admitted that they broke labor laws. They have done nothing to prevent the abuses and neglect that I’ve witnessed and reported.

    My point is that JRC has been accused of other things besides allegedly violating human rights; not having licensed psychologists (which has been rectified) and not having a secure database.

    So why the double standard? When my current employer breaks labor laws, it’s “not the same as violating human rights” and it’s “okay because it has been rectified”. When JRC violates something other than human rights, it’s worthy of a lawsuit:

    Jackie:(to jan) You should also consider getting a labor attorney to take you to the EEOC or state agency in charge of unfair employment practices. It sounds like you have a pretty good case. You should print out this entire blog so the attorney knows you are not alone and not a nut case.

    Once again it seems as if JRC is being targeted. I mention that my employer is committing acts that JRC is also being accused of and I get the same response. “JRC is worse”.

    You know, I give up. Go ahead close down JRC. Then maybe the focus will turn to these other places where the acts committed are far worse.

    (BTW, I don’t really mean that about giving up and wishing JRC was closed-Are we clear on that?)

    Mike:JRc refuses to admit that what they are doing is wrong.

    If you think they are doing wrong, that’s fine for you to think it, but so far the state still says it’s legal.

    As far as emotion goes, I made myself clear. Emotion is not appropriate for behavior treatments. If I reacted to my students the way I FEEL like when they are having negative behaviors, I would end up yelling at them all the time. I don’t let my emotions get in the way of my treatment.

    In debating issues such as this, David is letting his emotions get in the way of a good argument. Saying things such as “you’re useless” is not debating. It’s arguing on the level of a 4 year-old.

    His reply to me included swearing and more emotion. He is a professional. Maybe this blog isn’t part of his actual work, but anyone could read it, including the parents of his students.

    Perhaps he doesn’t see the irony in the fact that he criticizes JRC for violating human rights, then he calls people names and swears at them saying that only “positive” approaches should be used. How is swearing and insulting people a positive approach?

    At first, yes, I responded in this blog using some emotions. I have since gotten my emotions in check.

  14. Jackie July 18, 2006 at 20:32 #

    Ann and all others who support JRC:
    This is not about electric shock. It is about bad scientific.

    Please read the following:

    Do you believe that JRC is complying with the American Psychological Association regarding peer reviews? Do you think JRC’s claim that peer reviews are taking place is accurate?

    Do you think that withholding food is an aversive or has any place in either education or psychology?

    Don’t you think it is wrong that NYS Department of Education is making the determination as to whether or not JRC’s controversial psychological treatments continue?

    If there were peer reviews, JRC would have the chance – in private – to explain why it is providing treatments the way it is. Members of the psychological community would have input. And most importantly, treatment would be better.

    JRC, as they did in the 1980’s as BRI, by not inviting peer reviews, is forcing an up or down political vote. Good politics is Bad medicine.

  15. David N. Andrews BA-status, PgCertSpEd (pending) July 21, 2006 at 19:11 #

    Ann: “How is swearing and insulting people a positive approach?”

    Um… same way as “Be happy in your delusion” is, I think. Ann seems to have forgotten how she and her JRC friends have been insulting everyone on here who disagreed with them on the issue of the ethics of causing pain to kids… short memory she has.

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