November 7, 2011– Washington, DC — This week we can celebrate a major victory against torture of people with disabilities in the United States. The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (DDS) adopted new regulations last week that greatly restrict the intentional use of pain as a form of treatment – including the use of electric shock, seclusion, and restraints on young children and adults with disabilities. As documented by a recent report by Disability Rights International (DRI), Torture Not Treatment, The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), based in Canton, Massachusetts, has used these practices, called “aversive treatment” for decades.
Facilities licensed by the DDS in Massachusetts can no longer subject new admissions to severe behavioral interventions including electric shock, long-term restraint, or aversives that pose risk for psychological harm — in other words, mainstays of JRC’s “treatment” program.
No other institution in the country – or the world, as far as we can tell – uses such barbaric practices. DRI’s investigation found that the pain caused by this is so severe and outside accepted professional norms, that these practices constitute nothing less than torture. By permitting such treatment, the United States violates its obligations under international law, as defined by the UN Convention Against Torture. DRI filed our report, Torture Not Treatment, in 2010 as an urgent appeal to the United Nations. The top official on torture at the United Nations agreed with DRI, and when asked by ABC Nightline if the practices were torture, he
declared, “Yes…I have no doubts about it. It is inflicted in a situation where a victim is powerless…a child in the restraint chair, being then subjected to electric shocks, how more powerless can you be?”
We applaud Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick on taking a courageous stand by issuing an executive order for the Massachusetts DDS to review their policies regarding electric shock and other severe aversives.
The resulting new policy puts an end to the use of JRC’s electric shocks on new admissions.But we can’t declare success yet. While hundreds of children will be spared from JRC’s behavioral experiments in the future, the new policies do not stop JRC from shocking and causing psychological damage to children already placed in the center. These children and young adults remain prisoners in a very dangerous environment. The center has been repeatedly investigated for suspicious deaths and physical abuse. JRC has been fined for identifying some clinicians hired by the school as psychologists, when in fact, they were not licensed psychologists. And as a result of an investigation into a case of abuse at the facility, JRC’s director was forced to resign earlier this year after being charged with misleading a grand jury about the investigation.
DRI is encouraged by the bold statement by the US National Council on Disabilities, a federal advisory body, which cited DRI’s report, as well as the international definition of torture, to call for the use of painful shock aversives to be brought to an end.
DRI urges the Department of Justice and the Obama Administration to fullfil its obgligations under the UN Convention Against Torture. DRI calls for a blanket ban on the use of electric shock as aversive treatment for children or adults with disabilities across the nation. There is nothing stopping JRC from shocking kids already in their center — or moving their facility to a different state to avoid the new Massachusetts regulations. The Department of Justice has an open investigation into the treatment of children at JRC. We ask you to write a personal appeal to the investigators to help ensure that this torture is put to an end once and for all, and is never allowed to be duplicated anywhere else in the United States.