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.

Judge Rotenberg Center Threatens To Sue Autistic Led Organization During Autistic Acceptance Month

Yes, you read that right. There was an survey that Neuroclastic put out, asking ABA professionals about their attitudes about the Judge Rotenberg Center. About 900 ABA professionals answered this survey.

In Summary, most of the BCBA that answered the survey agrees with the autistic community about the use of electric shock on people for behavior modification for any reason.

The JRC threatened Neuroclastic with a defamation lawsuit with a cease and desist letter, but all claims have been backed up. JRC claims that no one has been hurt by their methods BUT there are videos and past students who have spoken out. These are just a few examples.

The quotes that were submitted from the survey they find defamatory as well. Some of those quotes are:

“A quote from Brian Middleton, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA-TN that the skin shock in use at JRC is ‘at least 10 times more powerful than a stungun’ and that JRC uses skin shock to treat ‘not answering a question in 3 seconds or saying no’;

·”A quote from RBT that JRC uses shock on clients while they are ‘strapped down to a board on the floor’.

·”The majority of the individuals wearing a GED are Black or Brown”;

·“JRC uses skin shock to treat ‘completely innocuous behaviors like hand play and pressurizing the ears'”

“·Proponents of the JRC argue that use of the GED is used with consent, but built in to JRC’s structure is the systematic stripping of consent to ensure the resident being admitted cannot say no ‘ and ‘ [a]ll of JRC’s residents are all capable of consent, even in the absence of having access to using words as communication’;”

·”The skin shock JRC uses is ‘much more painful’ and ‘many times stronger’ than a ‘cattle prod’; and

·”A quote from Mason Weiser that JRC’s use of skin shock is ‘torture’ and that JRC has ‘murdered us by electrocution there before’.

Excerpt from the Cease and Desist letter

When the autistic community and ABA professionals band together against something, that something is pretty horrific.

This is only a summary, of the legal action that is being taken. There are links in the sources.

What Happens When a Smaller Shock is an Accident

TW electroshock, medical procedures on a child, PTSD in a child








Talking about Judge Rotenberg Center. Electroshocks can lead to devistating consequences.

Roo had an accident when he was 7. We were home, in a town house we were renting at the time, on the weekend and I was making lunch. I asked Roo, since he was the oldest child at the time and my partner was at work, to turn on the light.

I heard a scream and his finger turned colors. I asked him what happened. He has always been an effective communicator. He told me that the light switch bit him.

I started freaking out and took him to urgent care. The doctor there was convinced it wasn’t an electric shock. Told us to soak it in water and it will be better.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

The next morning, this finger swelled. We called the pediatrician and had an appointment the next morning becuase they couldn’t get him in. We all did not think this was serious. ,

That afternoon, we all went to speech/ot/PT. This was when it was only Roo, Boop, Bug and N. The other kids hadn’t come to us yet.

While in the waiting room, Roo was screaming in pain. The therapy office was attached to the children’s hospital. We walked across the parking lot to the ER.

We told them what happened. They took an xray and did bloodwork. Roo was being admitted.

He had osteomylitis and MRSR. They told me that the soft tissue had separated from the bone and left it open for infection.

As soon as he had a bed, they took him to get his finger drained. 5 ml of fluid was drained off his little 7 year old finger. During this procedure they had to amputate part of the bone of his finger tip.

He was on round the clock IV antibiotics for a week. He was in the hospital for a week.

When I told my landlord what happened, he said,”These things happen.” He repeated the same thing to Roo when he finally came home after 8 days.

Before discharge, they put him under to put in a pic line so I was able to administer IV antibiotics at home. They called a home nurse but to be honest, I’m a vet tech and very familiar with IV medication and just did it myself. It was in little balls that were pre measured. I flushed the IV line and just used the leur lock connection and connected it. Roo didn’t like the nurse because she was a grump because she wasn’t used to working with children.

We did 6 weeks of this antibiotics. He had to see specialists constantly. Orthopedic surgeon, infectious disease specialist.

After this, he had his checkup at the dentist. He had an anxiety attack because he needed to have a baby tooth extracted and he saw the mask and though the was having more done that had to do with his finger. We just postponed that appointment until much later. His teeth were fine and it was possible for the tooth to fall out on its own.

He was so happy when the pic line was taken out. The infectious disease specialist sent us to the ER and they took it out there. He said it felt weird and it didn’t hurt.

This was an ACCIDENTAL electric shock. We found out later this was due to the light switch not being grounded. Obviously, we don’t live there anymore. When we pushed the issue, he tried to evict us. Since we never missed a payment, it did not stand in court.

He isn’t allowed to ever give blood because he had osteomylitis. He is pretty upset about that because we teach the kids the importance of it since I have a close friend who has been in remission from leukemia for years. He has PTSD from this incident, but he is coping a lot better. He is almost 14 now.

Imagine what happens to the people who are shocked ON PURPOSE. The fact that it happens sickens me because of the above accident was devastating.

Bill to Ban Electric Shocks in Schools Passed the US House of Representatives

Since the FDA’s authority was challenged in banning these dangerous shocks, a clause in a major spending bill would prohibit the Department of Education from funding any institution that uses electric shock devices to discipline students. This provision was specifically intended to target the JRC.

The language that was added to this bill that covers federal health, education and labor programs. Representative Katherine Clark D-Mass told a news source that she added the provision to the bill in order to stop the practice at the institution. Clark was previously an attorney at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. This is where she sued JRC for their use of “aversive practices” to punish disabled people.

“It is unbelievable to think that in 2021 electric shock devices are still being used in schools. I’ve been working for over a decade to stop this practice and finally, through this years Appropriations package, we will ensure that students in Massachusetts and across the nation will no longer be subjected to this horrific and dangerous practice,” Clark said in an email.

I know I am speaking for the Disabled community when I say THANK YOU, REPRESENTATIVE CLARK.

Senate Stripped This Protection From the Bill

Disability advocates failed to be heard, the lawmakers of the Senate stripped the protection against electric shocks from the bill we have all been waiting impatiently for.

As stated earlier, in June the U.S, House of Representatives voted to end the use of electric shock devices as a behavior modification technique. This ban was part of a broad bill reauthorizing programs at the FDA.

This week a deal was reached this week to allow the legislation to move forward in the Senate. This was only if the protection against electric shocks was cut out. The Senate stripped this protection. They basically said they don’t care about their disabled citizens.

Julia of ASAN says,”The people with IDD being electrocuted at the JRC for getting out of their chairs don’t have the luxury of indulging Senate process. Congress must act: ever day without this ban is a failure of leadership.”

Bethany Lily of ARC said that she is eyeing a big government bill that Congress is expected to take up at the end of the year as a possible catalyst to pass this ban on electric shock devices. “This should be on every member’s list of things that need to be included with that package,” she said.

A representative of the JRC said,”While we are pleased that the provision related to the life-saving electrical stimulation device (ESD) treatment was not included in the FDA reauthorization bill, the parents and guardians of clients of the Judge Rosenberg Educational Center (JRC)will remain vigilant to ensure treatment remains available to those for whom all other treatment options have been tried and failed. Allowing the use of ESDs as a part of these clients treatment plans is a matter of life or death.”

I fail to see how allowing people to be electrocuted can save someone’s life.


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

4 thoughts on “Autistic History: Judge Rotenberg Center

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