Autistic History: Judge Rotenberg Center

The Judge Rotenberg Center is an institution that is located in Canton, Massachusetts. It was founded by Mathew Israel in 1971 and originally called the Behavior Research Institute. Israel was a psychologist who trained with B F Skinner, the founder of radical behaviorism. In 1994, they changed their name to the Judge Rotenberg Center to “honor the memory of the judge who helped preserve  licensing officials in the 1980’s.”

The JRC has a near zero rejection/expulsion policy. Active treatment based on ABA and exclusively towards normalization, frequent use of behavioral rewards and punishment.

Its purpose was to be an institution for the developmentally disabled and mentally ill.  When it was founded, there was only two residents of this institution. One was autistic and the other was schizophrenic.

JRC is one of 50 privately run special education boarding schools in MA that is supported by taxpayer dollars. These boarding schools are supposed to support students that cannot be helped in a typical school setting. They have more than 2,000 students from across the United States.

They are most well known for thier inhumane use of electric shock. This is delivered by a device that is worn by all residents there. It is manufactured by the institution. It is a graduated electronic decelerator (GED).  It was designed to be more powerful and painful than a law enforcement taser. These devices have been used since the 1980’s.

“That hurts. That hurts,” the student can be heard saying in a panicked voice. “Stop. Stop for real.”

Not only is the worn device used but JRC uses prolonged restraint, food deparvatio, deep muscle pinching, forced inhalation of ammonia and intentional sensory overload for behavior modification techniques. They also squirt thier students with water and put hot sauce on thier tongues.

In 2011, a YouTube video surfaced that showed a JRC student strapped down and shocked. it is hard to watch:

Over the past 40 years, six people have died while at JRC. They are Silverio Gonzalez (1998), Abigail Gibson (1997), Linda Conelison (1990), Vincent Milletich (1985), Danny Aswad (1981), and Robert Cooper (1980).

In February 2013, there was a complaint agains the JRC for not being licensed as required by law. The court papers can be found here.

In July 2016, the FDA had announced a proposed ban of electric shock devices.

In October 2018, the FDA had released thier intent to finalize the ban. Victims of the JRC speak out. Gilberto Toro, a developmentally disabled man was whipped repeatedly by a caretaker for two years in a group home owned and operated by the JRC. The worker’s name was Mohamed Tarwally. He was supposed to keep Toro safe overnight in his group home. This was caught on video.

JRC has been cited recently by state agencies that monitor the care of adults and children in facilities of this nature. In 2016, the JRC was cited 27 times. This was more than any other school of its kind that year. This was according to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

In March 2020, FDA announced that on March 4, 2020 that they are issuing a final ban. The FDA ruled that the devices cause a number of significant pshycolgical and physical risks,”including worsening of underlying symptoms, depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, pain, burns and tissue damage.

“A ban will do nothing to undo the decades of torture that people confined to JRC have had to suffer through until now,” said Lydia Brown, Associate for Disability Rights and Algorithmic Fairness at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Tech Law and Policy. “And Massachusetts has a responsibility to make reparations to the survivors.”

In response to this, the JRC fought this decision. They are fighting for thier right to electrocute children. 

In July 2020, JRC receives $1.7 million in corona relief funds. This relief fund had $16.1 million to disperse to 32 different intistutions in Massachecuets. A lot of students were sent home and the JRC said they could not send students home. They used this reasoning to apply for this grant.

In April, 2020 the FDA filed an administrative partial stay of its ban on the electric devices used at JRC. This allowed them to abuse thier residents.

July 2021, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in JRC’s favor.  JRC won the appeal case against the FDA and are allowing the electric shock of disabled people in institutions. It was a 2-1 decision. The JRC will continue to use thier electric shock torture devices.

“We conclude that the FDA lacks the statutory authority to ban a medical device for a particular use,” the majority judges wrote.

Disability advocates will never stop fighting this horrific abuse.


FDA Moves to Appeal the Court Ruling Allowing Electric Shocks

The Food and Drug Administration has filed an appeal on the court ruling that would enable the Judge Rotenberg Center to continue using skin shocks on disabled people. The FDA is now asking the the case be heard by ALL 11 judges on the DC circuit. This maneuver is called a rehearing en banc. If a majority of the justices agree with the FDA, the ban can be reinstated.


Bearing Witness, Demanding Freedom: Judge Rotenberg Center Living Archive

ASAN Commends FDA’s Move to Appeal Judge Rotenberg … › 2021/09 › asan-commend…

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