Thursday, May 06, 2010

Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint on Children and Adults with Disabilities


Torture not Treatment:
Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center

Urgent Appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture

Presented by:
Mental Disability Rights International
1156 15th Street NW, Suite 1001
Washington, DC 20005

Executive Summary

Torture not Treatment: Electric Shock and Long-Term Restraint in the United States on Children and Adults with Disabilities at the Judge Rotenberg Center
is the product of an investigation by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) into the human rights abuses of children and young adults with mental disabilities residing at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) (formerly known as the Behavior Research Institute) in Canton, Massachusetts, United States of America (US).

This report is an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture or other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, by Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI).

We request that the Special Rapporteur initiate an inquiry into the abusive practices perpetrated against the residents of JRC and licensed by the State of Massachusetts. MDRI contends that the severe pain and suffering perpetrated against children and adults with disabilities at JRC violates the UN Convention against Torture. US law fails to provide needed protections to children and adults with disabilities.

This urgent appeal documents human rights abuses at what is called a special needs school. The fact that the intentional infliction of pain to punish students for certain behaviors is called treatmen - for children and adults with disabilities - does not render these practices acceptable, necessary or legal. At JRC, pain is the treatment. JRC practices a form of aversive therapy that is unique in the United States. JRC‘s practices are based on a theory of behaviorism that mental disabilities can be extinguished by an elaborate system of rewards and punishments for acceptable or unacceptable behavior. To implement this program, authorities at JRC intentionally inflict severe pain on children with disabilities entrusted to their care. The maltreatment of children and adolescents with disabilities at JRC constitutes both physical and psychological abuse, couched in the name of treatment. The treatment at JRC is punishment. Children are subject to electric shocks on the legs, arms, soles of their feet, finger tips and torsos – in many cases for years, and for some, a decade or more. Electric shocks are administered by a remote-controlled pack attached to a child‘s back called a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED). The shocks, which last 2 seconds each, are so strong as to cause red spots or blisters to the skin. Some students have received dozens – even hundreds – per day.

…The level of shock is unbelievable, very painful …. No other class of citizen in the United States could be subjected to this. You could not do this to a convicted felon. – MDRI interview with psychologist who visited JRC on behalf of the New York State Department of Education
The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the US in 1994, prohibits torture without exception – even if it takes place in a school or a medical establishment and is justified by authorities as a form of treatment.
By reframing violence and abuse perpetrated against persons with disabilities as torture or a form of ill-treatment, victims and advocates can be afforded stronger legal protection and redress for violations of human rights – Manfred Nowak, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture
Additionally, children are shackled, restrained and secluded for months at a time. Social isolation and food deprivation as punishment is common. Mock and threatened stabbings – to forcibly elicit unacceptable behaviors which then result in electric shock punishments (known as Behavioral Research Lessons or BRLs) - have been reported to MDRI and state regulatory bodies as well.
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 BRL s 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. – MDRI interview with former JRC student
Behaviors deemed aggressive – getting out of a chair without permission – and behaviors referred to as minor and non-compliant behaviors – raising your hand without permission – are all punishable by electric shocks, restraints and other punishments.

MDRI‘s findings are consistent with decades of reports by numerous state agencies, legal and disability advocates, media reports, first-hand accounts and interviews of former students, parents of students, staff, and in many cases, JRC‘s own informational website.
It is imperative that JRC devise a protocol for reassessing the effectiveness of the aversive interventions [shock] once they have been tried for 5 years with only limited effectiveness… April 2009 report Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation (DMR)
Despite the overwhelming evidence of abuse at JRC, domestic remedies to end these abuses have failed. And in some cases, states have adopted regulations permitting the use of painful aversives, and the courts have upheld such regulations which undermine the protection of children and adolescents at JRC from cruel and inhuman treatment or torture.

The prohibition against torture under international law is reserved for the most egregious acts. To rise to the level of torture, an act must meet each of four criteria identified in article 1 of the UN Convention against Torture. Some practices documented at JRC meet each of these elements of

torture because (1) the pain and suffering inflicted is severe; (2) this pain is inflicted intentionally; (3) the infliction of pain is for a purpose that is coercive or discriminatory; and (4) these practices are conducted with the consent or acquiescence of public officials.

The use of electric shock or long-term restraint would never be tolerated on individuals without disabilities. The discriminatory nature of JRC‘s practices becomes clear when they are compared to strikingly similar practices widely understood to constitute torture or ill-treatment.
One girl who was blind, deaf and non-verbal was moaning and rocking. 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. – MDRI interview with former JRC teacher
To the best of our knowledge, JRC is the only facility of any kind in the United States – and perhaps indeed in the world – which uses electricity, combined with long-term restraint and other punishments, to intentionally cause pain to its children with behavioral challenges and calls it treatment.
I was kept in a small room, isolated…one staff and me for a year and a half. – JRC video testimonial in support of GED, JRC website
I was in restraints constantly…I was in an isolated room. Then I went on the GED - JRC video testimonial in support of GED, JRC website
Long-term effects from electric shock can reportedly include muscle stiffness, impotence, damage to teeth, scarring of skin, hair loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, chronic anxiety, memory loss and sleep disturbance.

Physical restraints combined with electric shocks are also used as a form of aversive treatment. While receiving electric shocks, children can be tied down in four-point restraints – sometimes in a prone, face-down position. In testimony posted on JRC‘s website, children and parents have reported that restraints may be used over-and-over for months at a time. One mother reported to MDRI that her child was held in restraints for two years.
If students are non-compliant or aggressive, 4 or 5 staff will wrestle kids to the floor and strap them to a board face down and then shock them. I have seen it more than once. They yell “help” and “send someone.” They could be there like that for 12 hours or more until they “complied.” – MDRI interview with former JRC teacher
Because these abuses have continued unabated for almost four decades and because the use of domestic remedies has been unsuccessful in stopping these human rights abuses, MDRI submits this document to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Torture and to the Committee Against Torture (CAT), as an urgent appeal.

The dehumanization and depersonalization of children at JRC by way of state-sanctioned punishment with electric shocks, 4-point restraint boards, mock assaults, food deprivation, shock chairs and shock holsters fosters an environment ripe for abuse and one that would not be tolerated – especially against children - in any other setting.

MDRI also calls on the Obama Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice to take immediate action to end the abuses against children with disabilities living at JRC. MDRI calls for a total and immediate ban on the use of electricity and long-term restraints to punish children. Under international human rights law, the United States is obligated to investigate and prosecute acts of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment and to provide reparations for individuals subject to these practices.

1 comment:

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