25 Disability Rights Groups Protest Use of Electric Shock Treatments


25 Disability Rights Groups Protest  Use of Electric Shock Treatments

A coalition of 25 disability rights groups protested in front of the State House in Boston, demanding that the legislature pass H.180. The bill would ban painful behavioral interventions such as electric shocks used at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton. JRC is the only facility in the country that continues to use extremely painful electric shock as punishment. Every mainstream national disability organization, along with Amnesty International and the ACLU, is opposed to the use of electric shock for behavioral intervention.

Impassioned speakers at the protest included lobbyist Lisa McGonagle, who said that it is illegal to use electric shock on prisoners, even terrorists. McGonagle urged all citizens to call their legislators to support House Bill H.180, to end the use of electric shock as a behavioral intervention forever.

Matthew Israel, founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, MA, invented and patented a remote-controlled shock device called the Graduated Electronic Decelerator. The center claims that the shocks feel like a bee sting. Mother Jones reporter Jennifer Gonnerman tried it on herself, and said,”when I tried the shock, it felt like a horde of wasps attacking me all at once. Two seconds never felt so long.” The UN condemned the JRC for committing torture. The FDA banned the device, but the ban has been challenged for procedural reasons. Congress recently clarified that the FDA can ban the device.

The JRC states that using electric shock is “a treatment of last resort” for residents who harm themselves, but there are hundreds of documents showing that these extremely painful shocks are used for behaviors as innocuous as taking one’s eyes off their work or failing to maintain a neat appearance. In this video a young man is shocked 31 times over seven hours. The first shock was for failing to take off his jacket when told to; the other 30 shocks were for screaming while being shocked or tensing his muscles in anticipation of the next shock.

The residents of JRC are not the only people in the country who have significant behavioral challenges. Almost all states stopped sending people to this highly controversial facility, instead, people with disabilities across the country are offered services that are both more effective and humane in their home states and communities. The cost to taxpayers to send a person to JRC is between $300,000 and $450,000 per person, per year.

Israel claimed that there have been no negative side-effects from the use of skin shock. However, people who have been subject to the electric shock at JRC describe it as the worst pain they have ever felt, as living a life of constant terror, and years later, as still experiencing the symptoms of severe, debilitating PTSD as a result of their time at the facility. JRC is the only place in the United States that uses electric shock as punishment. It is not a professionally accepted approach to behavior management.

Massachusetts State Rep. Danielle Gregoire has filed a bill to ban the use of pain on disabled people. Her bill, H.180, forbids “any procedure which causes obvious signs of physical pain, including…electric shock for the purposes of changing the behavior of the person.”

The bill is waiting for the decision of the Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities. The committee can hold hearings any time this year. Atty. Colbe Mazzarella, a disability rights activist, urged citizens to call the committee and explain the need for speed in holding hearings.

The committee’s two co-chairs are Senator Robyn Kennedy (617)722-1544 and Rep. Jay Livingstone (617)722-2011.

Mazzarella explained, “Phone calls work best when they are short, polite and passionate. Call to support H.180 and ask when they will have a hearing.” She called on the public to contact their state senators and representatives. “Urge them to support H.180. We will not forget the voiceless human beings tortured every day, and we won’t let our legislators forget.”  ♦


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