Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has filed a report and urgent appeal with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture alleging that the Judge Rotenberg Center for the disabled, located in Massachusetts, violates the UN Convention against Torture.
The rights group submitted their report this week, titled "Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center," after an in-depth investigation revealed use of restraint boards, isolation, food deprivation and electric shocks in efforts to control the behaviors of its disabled and emotionally troubled students.
Findings in the MDRI report include the center's practice of subjecting children to electric shocks on the legs, arms, soles of feet and torso -- in many cases for years -- as well as some for more than a decade. Electronic shocks are administered by remote-controlled packs attached to a child's back called a Graduated Electronic Decelerators (GEI).
The disabilities group notes that stun guns typically deliver three to four milliamps per shock. GEI packs, meanwhile, shock students with 45 milliamps -- more than ten times the amperage of a typical stun gun.
A former employee of the center told an investigator, "When you start working there, they show you this video which says the shock is 'like a bee sting' and that it does not really hurt the kids. One kid, you could smell the flesh burning, he had so many shocks. These kids are under constant fear, 24/7. They sleep with them on, eat with them on. It made me sick and I could not sleep. I prayed to God someone would help these kids."
Noting that it believes United States law fails to provide needed protections to children and adults with disabilities, MDRI calls for the immediate end to the use of electric shock and long-term restraints as a form of behavior modification or treatment and a ban on the infliction of severe pain for so-called therapeutic purposes.
"Torture as treatment should be banned and prosecuted under criminal law," the report states.
The U.S. Department of Justice opened a "routine investigation" of the center in February of this year in response to a September 2009 letter signed by 31 disability organizations claiming that the center violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Judge Rotenberg CEO and founder Dr. Matthew L. Israel began his first program in California back in 1977. In 1981, a 14-year old boy died face down, tied to his bed, while living in the California center. Dr. Israel was not held responsible for the death. After an investigation by the State of California, Israel relocated to Rhode Island, and then to Massachusetts, where his facility still operates today.
Mother Jones magazine published an extensive investigative report on the Rotenberg Center in 2007 titled "School of Shock." Reporter Jennifer Gonnerman asked, "How many times do you have to zap a child before it's torture?"
Children at the Judge Rotenberg Center are often shackled, restrained and secluded for months at a time, the report says. Social isolation, and food deprivation as forms of punishment are common. Mock and threatened stabbings -- to forcibly elicit unacceptable behaviors resulting in electric shock punishments (Labeled as Behavioral Research Lessons or BRLs, by the center) were reported to MDRI as well as state regulatory bodies.
A former student of the center reportedly tells MDRI, "The worst thing ever was the BRLs. They try and make you do a bad behavior and then they punish you. The first time I had a BRL, two guys came in the room and grabbed me – I had no idea what was going on. They held a knife to my throat and I started to scream and I got shocked. I had BRLs three times a week for stuff I didn't even do. It went on for about six months or more. I was in a constant state of paranoia and fear. I never knew if a door opened if I would get one. It was more stress than I could ever imagine. Horror."
Behaviors that the center deemed "aggressive," as well as those considered "minor," or "non-compliant" -- such as raising one's hand without permission -- are all considered punishable by electric shocks, restraints, and other punishments to students.
"One girl who was blind, deaf and non-verbal was moaning and rocking," a former teacher says in the report. "Her moaning was like a cry. The staff shocked her for moaning. Turned out she had broken a tooth. Another child had an accident in the bathroom and was shocked."
The rights group investigation found that the Rotenberg center is the only known facility in the United States, "Or perhaps the world," that employs the use of electricity, long-term restraints and other punishments to deliberately inflict pain upon its children and then refer to it as "treatment." The electric shocks alone are cited as having possible long-term effects such as muscle stiffness, impotence, damage to teeth, scarring of the skin, hair loss, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), severe depression, chronic anxiety, memory loss and sleep disturbances.
The MDRI report states that more than any other source for its information, they relied upon information readily obtained from the Judge Rotenberg Center's own website.
In response to MDRI's report, the Judge Rotenberg Center said, "There is no credible evidence that for these most severe forms of behavior disorders, there is any pharmacological or psychological treatment that can effectively treat these students or even keep them safe. JRC is the only program willing to address the reality of these children’s disorders and endure the political firestorm in order to save these children and give them an education and a future."
The complete response from the center can be read in full at JRC's website.