JUDGE ROTENBERG CENTER: A HISTORY OF TORTURE
The abuse of people with disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, MA, drastically accelerated in 1990, when its infamous founder, Matthew Israel, devised a money-making patent that would apply painful shocks to residents at any time of the day – while they ate, when they showered, even while they slept – via a remotely activated device worn 24 hours a day. Israel promoted this abuse as behavior modification mostly on autistic people, and JRC soon became the only institution in the country to utilize aversive shocks despite overwhelming evidence debunking its effectiveness. Since then, JRC has been paid millions in taxpayer money to effectively traumatize unwilling residents. New York City alone throws $30 million annually towards JRC’s way to warehouse more than 120 of its residents. You may ask: “If this treatment is really torture, why is JRC still in business?” One answer may be that JRC pays thousands to lobby lawmakers and government administrators to turn a blind eye. In 2010, JRC paid Rudy Giuliani’s law firm $100,000 for his influence peddling. You may say: “Well, maybe this is the only answer for self-injurious behavior.” The answer is no! It has been shown that abusive treatment, just like the torture of enemy combatants (which is, unlike the torture of people with disabilities, illegal), is less effective than other approaches. In short, there is no excuse for supporting JRC’s program of torture.
A HISTORY OF INACTION
Opposition to JRC is neither new nor insignificant. For 30 years, families and advocates for individuals who have been traumatized at JRC have demanded an end to this so-called “treatment,” long ago debunked by reputable experts and associations. Since then, dozens of disability groups have submitted their objections to the U.S. government. In 2016, following a UN report that identified JRC’s practices as torture, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) drafted regulations that would ban the use of aversive shocks. All it needed was the signature of the FDA Commissioner, under the authority of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Unfortunately, since the 2016 elections, the FDA has refused to release this ban on the domestic torture of innocent Americans.
By the time Alex Azar replaced Tom Price as HHS Secretary in January, the Department was well aware of the broad opposition to the torture at JRC. ADAPTers, in particular, have made phone calls, sent emails, signed petitions, repeatedly visited the FDA and HHS, and joined the many other signatories on the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network’s letter opposing the shock. We even camped-out in March outside FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s apartment in DC for 12 days and nights demanding he sign the regs. Despite what HHS is telling the media now, neither Commissioner Gottlieb nor Secretary Azar has agreed to talk to us.
ONE OF MANY TRAGIC CASES
When Andre McCollins’ case went to trial in 2012, JRC defended the 31 shocks he received after not taking his coat off as a part of his treatment plan. On the other hand, the electrical burns and other injuries he received – injuries he has still not fully recovered from 16 years later – were the result of the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED) being used as intended.
Former JRC staff member, Gregory Miller, reported that what happened to Andre, who was a teenager in 2002 when he sustained permanent harm as a result of a dangerous “treatment,” was not atypical. JRC residents on the GED are often shocked repeatedly for minor infractions because they do not understand the rules, or why they are being shocked, so they repeat the action for which they are being shocked.
• SEE: Life inside JRC.
Former JRC resident, and GED survivor, Jennifer Msumba has told the world about the pain and injury caused by the GED, not just when it malfunctions and shocks residents in the steam after the shower, or when the remote triggers more than one device because the frequencies are too close together, or when the staff test the remotes to ensure they are working, or when they are used in unintended ways, as they were in 2006, when a teenager was shocked 77 times during a “prank”, but when, as it was with Andre McCollins, the device is used as intended.
ADAPT & JRC
ADAPT opposes institutionalization. We know from experience that any person with a disability who can be supported in an institution can be supported in the community, and our 35-year history has been devoted to providing every disabled person with the resources needed to live in the community if they choose. This includes the JRC residents, who are mostly children and almost all people of color. Further, we know that disability is never a justification for neglect or abuse, let alone torture.
The FDA appeared to agree more than two years ago, when they announced that they had prepared regulations to ban the GED because the risk it poses to the health and safety of the people on which it is used is unacceptable.
Still, neither the Obama nor the Trump administration has acted to protect the tens of Americans being tortured at JRC; and, Alex Azar, by stonewalling ADAPT and the media, continues to put innocent people warehoused at JRC in harm’s way. How long will it be before we read about another Andre McCollins or another Jennifer Msumba due to the inaction of HHS and the FDA? It is time for Scott Gottlieb and Alex Azar to do their jobs: meet with ADAPT and release the regulations!
TELL ALEX AZAR & SCOTT GOTTLIEB TO BAN SHOCK TORTURE AT JRC:
This is Alex Azar and the shock device he approves for use on innocent Americans
Alex Azar, Secretary of Health & Human Services (and former President of Lilly USA), condones the ongoing use of electric shock to inflict pain and fear on young adults at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), in Canton, MA. This punishment leaves physical injuries and lasting psychological trauma on individuals whose only crime is having a disability. The shock aversions JRC’s uses today have been identified as torture by the United Nations, and this practice is illegal for use on enemy combatants.
Right now, a proposed ban, drafted by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) in 2016, is sitting on FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s desk. HHS Secretary, Alex Azar has the power to order Scott Gottlieb to sign those regulations! The FDA has determined that these devices are dangerous and a risk to public health. Yet, two years on and JRC is still shocking innocent Americans because neither the current FDA commissioner nor Secretary Azar will finalize the regulations. Yes, Secretary Azar could stop the use of torture today at JRC, but he refuses.
The national disability rights group ADAPT has repeatedly contacted Secretary Azar’s office and the offices of FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb to discuss the abusive treatment of disabled people at JRC. Neither public servant, nor their offices, has responded.
Help end torture at JRC. Demand that Secretary Azar ban aversive shock devices. Call: 202-690-7000, email: Secretary@HHS.gov.
Contact your legislator to demand that Secretary Azar ends the torture at JRC.
4 Things You Should Know About the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC)
- Children and adults are being tortured at JRC every day. It is the only facility that we know of that admits to using electric shock to cause pain and fear of future pain in order to control people’s behavior. It uses other aversives to instill terror and suffering as well, and strict “reward-based” behavior plans designed to maximize coercion and control. JRC justifies these things by saying that it is focused on preventing people from hurting themselves and others, but former staff report shocks are also used to address things like slouching.Video of the shocks show people screaming, jerking, writhing, begging, and trying to get away. The United States military would not be allowed to do this to enemy combatants. It would not be allowed for people convicted of horrific crimes. If Syria or North Korea were torturing people this way we would be horrified. But it is happening in the United States with the approval of the federal government and at taxpayer expense.Last September ADAPT visited the Department of Health and Human Services to ask, “Would you do this to your grandchildren?” “Of course not,” said the Assistant Secretary who came out to talk to protesters. But it is happening to other people’s grandchildren simply because they are disabled.
- Even for the most dangerous things JRC residents do, there are better options. Institutional cheerleaders will tell you JRC is a last resort, but many people have limited or access to the kind of supports that would help them to live happy and healthy lives in their own communities.Even other behaviorists have moved on. In the 1990s behavioral therapists were being trained to use aversives as a matter of course. But the field determined that reward-based efforts are more effective in controlling behavior, and JRC is now an aberration even in a field that has come under attack from survivors.Gentle, trauma-informed support that does not get in the face of suffering people and make things harder works — but not everybody wants to put the resources into providing it. For example, New York funds far more spaces at JRC than any other state; this isn’t because New Yorkers with developmental disabilities are different from people with development disabilities who come from New Jersey, but because New York would rather send people far from their loved ones and let them be tortured than provide quality services at home.
- In 2014 the FDA began the process of stopping the electric shocks, and at least by 2016 they had regulations drafted saying that this torture is completely unacceptable, but they have dragged their feet on actually issuing the regulations.Over and over, self-advocates, advocates and activists from the disability rights community as well as civil rights and human rights supporters worldwide have called on JRC and the FDA to stop the shocks, and over and over the torture has continued.Enough is enough!
- You can help! Call the FDA, your state and federal legislators and ask to #StopTheShock!
- Friday March 9, 2018 Part 1
- Friday March 9, 2018 Part 2
- Saturday March 10, 2018
- Monday March 12, 2018
- Sunday June 10, 2018