Article reference:

Shock therapy for kids to be phased out

Promoting Openness, Full Disclosure, and Accountability
January 9, 2007

Will it shock most of you to learn that the state of New York currently spends $52 million a year to control developmentally disabled children's aggressive behavior by applying electric shock torture?

That's right New York farms these children out to a Boston facility, Judge Rotenberg Center, where they are electrically zapped at a cost of $209,000 per child.

"We have not yet developed institutions that can handle these kids. I wish we could."

One surely has to wonder about the collective failure of the nation's institutions of higher education to formulate humane disciplinary measures for unruly children. Dr. Alisha Broderick of Columbia University put it plainly: "I think it requires seeing them as somewhat less than fully human in order to be able to, in any good conscience, apply these kind of dehumanizing techniques."

Many of these children are being prescribed large quantities of psychotropic drugs--including stimulants, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and antipsychotics. These drugs often tend to exacerbate explosive violent behavior. For a review of the evidence linking psychotropic drugs to violent and homicidal behavior, see: "Antidepressants and Violence: Problems at the Interface of Medicine and Law," by Drs. David Healy, Andrew Herxheimer, and David B. Menkes published in PLoS Medicine.

Taxpayer money should not be used to support misguided parents who approve of using electric shock for their children. Absent government subsidy, how many of these parents would pay $209,000 out of their own pocket?

If public officials in New York and Massachusetts -- considered by many to be the intellectual epicenter of higher education in America -- cannot offer a civilized method of disciplining children, rationalizing the use of barbaric techniques of torture, what differentiates our school custodians from Abu Ghraib?

Contact: Vera Hassner Sharav

Chanel 13 News
ALBANY, Jan. 9

View the video

or Click to view the video

It's a practice many people probably didn't know was going on-using electric shocks to control especially difficult students. For many years New York has allowed the treatment.

Now that's changing. The Board of Regents voted to phase out most electric shocks.

Not everyone says that's the right decision.

Those pushing to do away with the shock therapy say it is a brutal way to treat human beings, especially children. But there are others-including some parents-who say nothing else has worked.

When a school district had a developmentally disabled student who continued to act out or attack others, where normal discipline wasn't working and positive reinforcement was unsuccessful, they'd sent the child out of state to a Boston-area facility-the Judge Rotenberg Center.

"We have not yet developed institutions that can handle these kids. I wish we could. We are spending a fortune," Westchester County Regent Harry Phillips said.

At a cost of $209,000 a student, New York is spending a total of $52 million a year.

To change the bad behavior, kids at the Rotenberg Center would be hooked up with electrodes to their stomachs and legs and required to wear a back pack at all times. Then if they misbehaved, staff would give them a two second jolt of electricity, described as a static shock times 10. Some students were getting 40 shocks a day.

The Regents were persuaded to phase out the electro shocks by advocates like Dr. Alisha Broderick of Columbia University.

"I think it requires seeing them as somewhat less than fully human in order to be able to, in any good conscience, apply these kind of dehumanizing techniques," Broderick said.

But as strongly as some believed this was a barbaric practice, others argued it was the only thing that was getting through. The family of Samantha Shears says she was hitting herself so often she was going blind.

"And if this is going to be so severe that it's going to hurt her enough to think 'I don't want to get that thing. So I will do anything I can. I will stop hitting myself. I will do whatever it takes so I don't get that shock.' And you know something? It worked," Samantha's mother said.

Students currently receiving electro shocks can continue with the treatment, although the regents significantly tightened up the procedures and rules.

But as of 2009 no new students are supposed to receive the shocks. The special schools will be required to use positive reinforcements only.