Where Facts And Controversy In The News Come Together In Truth

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Teens Electric Shock Treatment By Staff Called Worse Than Abu Ghraib

Students As Young As 9 And 10 Receiving Shock Treatment At Behavior Center... by Jack Swint

In April of this year, a jury witnessed the graphic torture video (linked below) showing the shock treatment of 18 year old Andre McCollins that started when he refused to take off his coat. In the end, the youth was electrically jolted a total of 31 times over a 7 hour period. The footage was presented by McCollins lawyers, who were suing the Massachusetts behavior school, 'Judge Rotenberg Center' (JRC) for developmentally disabled students. As the video link at the bottom of this story shows, staff treated him in part by attaching electrodes to his body and shocking him.

The Rotenberg Center is the only facility in the country that disciplines students by shocking them, a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons. Over its 36-year history, six children have died in its care, prompting numerous lawsuits and government investigations. Last year, New York State investigators filed a blistering report that made the place sound like a high school version of Abu Ghraib.

Yet the program continues to thrive, in large part because no one except desperate parents, and a few state legislators, seems to care about what happens to the hundreds of kids who pass through its gates.

JRC fought for 8 years to keep the video out of the public, but a judges ruling in 2012 opened the door for the taped torture of the young man to be aired. JRC claims they educate and treat the most difficult behaviorally involved students in the country and administers the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, or GED to treat severe behavior disorders only after other treatments have failed and a court order is obtained to do so at the request of the student’s parents and doctor.

Reportedly, the treatment plan must also be approved by a Human Rights Committee, a Peer Review Committee and a physician. These students predominantly exhibit behaviors that are dangerous to themselves and others and have been resistant to previous treatments. Students parents or guardians, along with their school districts and medical personnel are involved in developing care plans and in most cases, before coming to JRC have tried several residential programs and psychiatric facilities and found them unsuccessful.

Often students are chemically restrained with medications and their guardians either remove them from those programs or the students are asked to leave.

Not The First Time JRC Comes Under Investigation

On its site, the center insists that "JRC relies primarily on the use of positive programming and educational procedures to modify the behaviors of its students. If however, after giving these procedures a trial for an average of eleven months, they prove to be insufficiently effective, JRC then considers supplementing them with more intensive treatment procedures known as aversive."

In a 2007 expose on the center, Mother Jones reported that, "Of the 234 current residents, about half are wired to receive shocks, including some as young as nine or ten." Mother Jones also noted that the center is the only facility that uses shocks to discipline students, "a form of punishment not inflicted on serial killers or child molesters or any of the 2.2 million inmates now incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons."

In 1999, when Rob Santanna was 13, his parents sent him to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Canton, Massachusetts, 20 miles outside Boston. The facility, which calls itself a "special needs school," takes in all kinds of troubled kids—severely autistic, mentally retarded, schizophrenic, bipolar, emotionally disturbed—and attempts to change their behavior with a complex system of rewards and punishments, including painful electric shocks to the torso and limbs.

Rob was at the Rotenberg Center for about three and a half years. From the start, he cursed, hollered, fought with employees. Eventually the staff obtained permission from his mother and a Massachusetts probate court to use electric shock. Rob was forced to wear a backpack containing five two-pound, battery-operated devices, each connected to an electrode attached to his skin. "I felt humiliated," he says. "You have a bunch of wires coming out of your shirt and pants."

Rob remained hooked up to the apparatus 24 hours a day. He wore it while jogging on the treadmill and playing basketball, though it wasn't easy to sink a jump shot with a 10-pound backpack on. When he showered, a staff member would remove his electrodes, all except the one on his arm, which he had to hold outside the shower to keep it dry. At night, Rob slept with the backpack next to him, under the gaze of a surveillance camera.

Employees shocked him for aggressive behavior, he says, but also for minor misdeeds, like yelling or cursing.

Each shock lasts two seconds. "It hurts like hell," Rob says. The school's staff claim it is no more painful than a bee sting; when a reporter with Mother Jones tried the shock, they report it felt like a "horde of wasps attacking them all at once. Two seconds never felt so long." On several occasions, Rob was tied facedown to a four-point restraint board and shocked over and over again by a person he couldn't see. The constant threat of being zapped did persuade him to act less aggressively, but at a high cost. "I thought of killing myself a few times," he says.

A Tale Of Two Schools

The story of the Rotenberg Center is in many ways a tale of two schools. Slightly more than half the residents are what the school calls "high functioning": kids like Rob who have diagnoses like attention-deficit disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other emotional problems. The other group is even more troubled. Referred to as "low functioning," it includes kids with severe autism and mental retardation; most cannot speak or have very limited verbal abilities. Some have behaviors so extreme they can be life threatening: chomping on their hands and arms, running into walls, nearly blinding themselves by banging their heads on the floor again and again.

The Rotenberg Center has long been known as the school of last resort—a place that will take any kid, no matter how extreme his or her problems are. It doesn't matter if a child has been booted out of 2, 5, 10, or 20 other programs—he or she is still welcome here. For desperate parents, the Rotenberg Center can seem like a godsend.

Just ask Louisa Goldberg, the mother of 25-year-old Andrew, who has severe mental retardation. Andrew's last residential school kicked him out after he kept assaulting staff members; the Rotenberg Center was the only place willing to accept him. According to Louisa, Andrew's quality of life has improved dramatically since 2000, when he was hooked up to the shock device, known as the Graduated Electronic Decelerator, or GED.

Massachusetts’s officials have twice tried to shut the Rotenberg Center down—once in the 1980s and again in the 1990s. Both times parents rallied to its defense, and both times it prevailed in court. The name of the center ensures nobody forgets these victories; it was Judge Ernest Rotenberg, now deceased, who in the mid-'80s ruled that the facility could continue using aversives—painful punishments designed to change behavior—so long as it obtained authorization from the Bristol County Probate and Family Court in each student's case.

But even though the facility wasn't using electric shock when this ruling was handed down, the court rarely, if ever, bars the Rotenberg Center from adding shock to a student's treatment plan, according to lawyers and disability advocates who have tried to prevent it from doing so.

In Closing….

Although the jury had the case, the Judge Rotenberg Center settled with Andre McCollins' mother before a verdict was reached. Fox 25 News in Boston covered this case diligently, and its article about the settlement writes, "But the attorney representing the Judge Rotenberg Center is not owning up to any mistakes." The Judge Rotenberg Center has a long history of defending its actions, wrapping their use of skin shocks and restraints in sunny graphics and opulent reward centers that make Liberace's home look like understated elegance.

But what now? Andre McCollins now has an undisclosed amount of money to help with his care, but what about the other residents of the JRC who still wear the backpacks that hold the apparatus to deliver the skin shocks whenever an employee decides it's warranted.

End Of Story….

Jack Swint-Publisher
West Virginia News
E-Mail:  WestVirginiaNews@gmail.com
Website: http://WVNewsOnline.com
Blog: http://WestVirginiaNews.blogspot.com
Twitter:  @WVNewsOnline
LinkedIn: Jack Swint

Video Link

Taped Shock Treatment Of Andre McCollins (GRAPHIC)

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