Saturday, February 27, 2010

Justice Department Launches Investigation of JRC

Good news from Left Brain/Right Brain: In response to a letter of complaint written by disability advocate Nancy Weiss, who is co-director of the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and an Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Delaware, and signed by thirty-one disability organizations (including Weiss's organization, the NLCDD, TASH, the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, and the National Disability Rights Network, but not including the Autism Society of America, which Weiss says, was contacted but refused to sign), the U.S. Department of Justice says it's opened a "routine investigation" of the infamous Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts.

The investigation will seek to determine whether the JRC's practices violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination against people because of their disabilities by any government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or private businesses that serve the public.

The initial letter of complaint that Nancy Weiss sent to the Justice Department (and also to the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Office on Disability within HHS, and to committees within both houses of the U.S. Congress whose areas of focus include education, and also to three international human-rights organizations: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights) spoke of the electrical shocks meted out to students every day at the Judge Rotenberg Center in broad terms as human rights violations; the language specific to the Americans with Disabilities Act and nondiscrimination appeared later, after the Justice Department responded that it may not have jurisdiction to enforce human-rights laws in a private facility, since the relevant law --- the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act --- applies only state-run institutions.

The logic in making this a claim of discrimination goes as follows:

(Quoted from Nancy Weiss's letter to the co-signers and other supporters of her September 2009 letter of complaint).

I suggested to [the Department of Justice] that they consider jurisdiction under the ADA on the basis that people with disabilities are being treated in ways that are neither legal nor would be tolerated if applied to people who do not have disabilities ... .

There's no way of knowing how long the investigation will take, but I am enormously glad the federal authorities are at least looking into it. What goes on at that "school" is nightmarish, and no living thing ought to be subjected to such treatment.


Clay said...

I really hope that somebody will be able to shut them down, but more than that, I hope that they will file criminal charges against Matthew Israel and main Officers of JRC.

TheWiredOne said...

@Clay: Anyone with even a particle of human decency would hope that such a place would be shut down. I would not even wish the shocking that they do there on a murderer.

Kowalski said...

^^SBWG, exactly!

That's really good news and about bloody time. My heart breaks for these kids.

Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

I'm wondering if the JRC will be considered any government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or private businesses that serve the public. Perhaps it's liasons with the courts or public schools...

This weasel has avoided capture before.

Still, sunlight is a great disinfectent.

TheWiredOne said...

@r.b.: The JRC is considered to be serving the public because of its reputation as a "special-needs" school. As unbelievable as it is, this is why the JRC has stayed in business for so long despite all the complaints from human rights organizations and private citizen bloggers.

Anonymous said...

nice post. thanks.

Greenconsciousness said...

Do parents knowingly and voluntarily send their children there?

Lindsay said...

Greenconsciousness, it's hard to say how much the parents do know about what they're getting into.

It would seem like they know their child could be shocked --- they have to give their approval, and also a Massachusetts probate court's --- for the skin-shock device to be used, but there seems to be a considerable gap between how the parents think the shocks will be used and how they actually are used.

In fact, most of what visiting families see when they come to the JRC to decide if they should send a child there is not shock treatment at all, but a more benign positive-reinforcement kind of thing. They see the colorful, fun-looking "reward room" where children get to go if they earn enough points for good behavior, and they hear about how safe the JRC is, with its healthy diet program (which is actually fairly suspect in itself; a child has starved to death) and its no-psychotropic-drugs policy.

Another thing that factors into parents' willingness to send their kids there, even if they have misgivings, is that the parents don't often have a lot of other choices. Their children have really serious problems, and most places just aren't able to deal with them. They are often violent, aggressive and destructive. But the JRC will take *anyone*, regardless of how many other institutions they've been kicked out of. So that alone puts a lot of pressure on the (desperate) parents to squelch their doubts and send their children there, and later agree to subject their children to the more intensive "treatment" if the JRC staff recommend it.

The doubts are also easier to suppress because they've been given an idealized picture of how even the aversive "treatment" actually works; they think it will be used sparingly, in conjunction with behavioral training, only in response to the most dangerous, violent, destructive forms of acting-out (Matthew Israel, in his papers/speeches for other behavior analysts, calls the skin shock a "supplemental aversive"), when actually children are shocked for even the smallest acts of defiance, or even for forgetting or failing to do something they're told to do.

Greenconsciousness said...

and where pray tell are the right to lifers, sara palin et al.? Wouldn't they be the ones to get involved in stopping this? This is all so horrible. If you don't treat them like this, dont they hurt themself? Isn't that the rational? Nothing else works? This is why I hate all this BS reproduction. This is exactly it.

Lindsay said...

Following on my earlier comment, here are some examples of parents who were surprised and angry to find out just how their children were treated there.

First, Evelyn Nicholson, mother of ex-JRC student Antwone Nicholson, who sued the school (and her local school district in New York) in 2006 when she discovered just how often they were shocking Antwone.

She's quoted briefly in this 2006 Boston Globe article about her lawsuit and the investigation it spurred:

"Evelyn Nicholson initially approved the shocks, but said she changed her mind as her son became more desperate, complaining that the shocks knocked him to the floor. Previously, she said, 'I was advised that the shock ... felt like a small pinch' and that the deviced were rarely used."

Another mom, Jo-Anne de Leon, whose son Rob Santana was at the JRC from 1999 to 2002, told Mother Jones magazine she had been under the impression that her son would be receiving counseling:

"Rob's mother Jo-Anne de Leon had sent him to the Rotenberg Center at the suggestion of the special-ed committee at his school district in upstate New York, which, she says, told her that the program had everything Rob needed. She believed he would receive regular psychiatric counseling -- though the school does not provide this.

As the months passed, Rob's mother became increasingly unhappy. 'My whole dispute with them was, "When is he going to get psychiatric treatment?",' she says. 'I think they had to get to the root of his problems -- like why was he so angry? Why was he so destructive? I really think they needed to go in his head somehow and figure this out.' She didn't think the shocks were helping, and in 2002 she sent a furious fax demanding that Rob's electrodes be removed before she came up for Parents' Day. She says she got a call the next day from the executive director, Matthew Israel, who told her, 'You don't want to stick with our treatment plan? Pick him up.' (Israel says he doesn't remember this conversation, but adds, 'If a parent doesn't want the use of the skin shock and wants psychiatric treatment, this isn't the right program for them.')"

It does look like the parents, even though they might (like Evelyn Nicholson) be told that the shock devices are sometimes used, in extreme circumstances, what they're told grossly underplays how often, and in what ways, the shocks are actually given. The parents are definitely not given *full* information, and even if they were, the JRC is often the only place left open to them anyway. So no, I wouldn't call this informed consent at all.

Lindsay said...

Hah, yes, I'd love it if the pro-life movement would get on this, but they don't seem to have much interest in helping children once they're born.

KateGladstone said...

> and where pray tell are the right to lifers, sara >palin et al.? Wouldn't they be the ones to get >involved in stopping this?

I've heard (from former right-to-lifers)
that the reason the right-to-lifers
(a/k/a "fetus fetishists")
keep pretty quiet on child-abuse issues
(and why the "fetus fetishists" generally keep pretty quiet about any initiation of force to harm or end the lives of the *already* *born*)
is that"fetus fetishists" tend regard the already born as less worthy than fetuses
because (according to the Christian theology followed by most "fetus fetishists")
only people who have already been born can have "original sin": fetuses are pure and innocent. (Fetuses haven't yet caught "original sin" by exiting the birth canal, and of course fetuses haven't had a chance to commit any sins of their own yet.)
So, "fetus fetishists" would rather help a fetus than help an already-born person, because they regard the fetus as morally superior to the already-born.

Greenconsciousness said...


Great comment and true. I remember it from my pagan baby lessons in grade school

Greenconsciousness said...

The fetus fetishers also keep quiet because their religion urges them to abuse children -- spare the rod, spoil the child etc., ad nauseum.

What would be beneficial however is disabled groups putting public pressure on them to take an interventionist position in these controversies. Sara Palin and her ilk encouraged the birth of children who will end up in such places. In fact, she has made it a campaign issue. So she should be pressured to take a stand about what happens when they are no longer cute babies. That whole stinking bunch of hypocrites should be pressured to do something about the reality that when they get older, these children's lives are a living hell. That would expose the conflict between their position of lower taxes and forced pregnancy.

Anonymous said...

A major international disability rights organization, Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) has now made an appeal to the United Nations to help pressure the United States into addressing the situation at the JRC. The full, 67-page report can be downloaded in PDF format at To find their press release and other information about MDRI's appeal for action, consult

Anonymous said...

If they cannot shut it down, then I sincerely hope some disgruntled former student carries out a gun massacre against the staff there without harming any of the students In fact I hope he(or she)liberates them from this torture facility. If none of them will do it, then god damnit I will!