Lydia X. Z. Brown

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Judge Rotenberg Center

Judge Rotenberg Center Living Archive

Note: This page and all links on it discuss electric shock, other abusive and coercive treatments, institutions, and other forms of abuse against disabled people/people with disabilities in great detail.

This page contains links to a variety of materials relating to the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), formerly known as the Behavior Research Institute (BRI). Please scroll or skip to the bottom of the page’s main contents for a link to separate pages with different documents. I am currently in the process of uploading and organizing an enormous amount of documents in my possession, so please be patient as this process may take an incredibly long time to complete. This is also a living archive, which means new items will always be added. Feel free to email me at lydia@autistichoya.com if you have a document that should be added to this page.

(living archive last updated 3 November 2016)


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Brief Background

Latest Update (July 2016)

About the Repository

Note

Survivor Jennifer Msumba’s Blog (and other work)

Additional Stories/Accounts from Survivors

Survivor Andre McCollins’s 2012 Civil Trial Coverage

U.S. State Government Agencies

U.S. Federal Government Agencies

U.S. Court Cases Involving JRC

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture

Independent and Nonprofit/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Reports and Letters

Advocate/Activist Testimony

Op-Eds/Editorials

News Articles

Other Articles

From the JRC/BRI (and supporters) directly

Videos

Other Resources

The Judge Rotenberg Center: An Environment of Torture


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Brief Background

The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is an institution for people with disabilities, including people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (which includes autistics) and people with psychiatric disabilities/mental illness. JRC first opened as the Behavior Research Institute in 1971. Today, JRC is most notorious for their use of aversive contingent electric shock and the device they invented and manufacture in-house, the graduated electronic decelerator (GED), which was intentionally designed to be more powerful and painful than a police taser. JRC’s philosophy of treatment is based on punishment as a means of behavioral modification. In addition to contingent electric shock, BRI/JRC has also used extremely prolonged restraint, food deprivation, deep muscle pinching, forced inhalation of ammonia, and sensory assault techniques for behavioral modification.

Over the past four decades, six people have died while at BRI/JRC. Their names are Silverio Gonzalez (d. 1998), Abigail Gibson (d. 1997), Linda Cornelison (d. 1990), Vincent Milletich (d. 1985), Danny Aswad (d. 1981), and Robert Cooper (d. 1980),  Numerous state agencies and now federal agencies in the United States have opened investigations into JRC’s practices. The JRC has also been condemned by the current and immediately previous United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture, Manfred Nowak and Juan E. Méndez.


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Latest Update (July 2016)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a proposed ban of the electric shock devices at the JRC, and invited public comment. Originally, the deadline was May 25. It has been extended for another two months until July 25, likely due to pressure from the JRC and its supporters to prevent a ban on the shocks. JRC subjects its residents to numerous forms of abuse in addition to or instead of shocks, which has resulted in dozens of complaints (for physical abuse, sexual abuse, and other forms of abuse and neglect) filed each year with the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission, the designated agency for investigating abuse and neglect claims.

As of June 2015, the population at JRC is as follows (I am unable to disclose my source for this information):

  • New York: 186
  • Massachusetts: 54
  • Virginia: 5
  • Connecticut: 2
  • Delaware: 2
  • Florida: 1
  • Maine: 1
  • New Hampshire: 1
  • New Jersey: 1
  • Rhode Island: 1

The oldest resident as of July 2015 was 62 years old (Jay Rosenthal, 2015 Report).


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About the Repository

I have collected and shared the documents available here as a service to the public. While the JRC may be unique in its use of aversive electric shock, it is not the only institution in existence either in the United States or in other countries that engages in abusive, dehumanizing, and violent practices — and electric shock is not the only form of abusive treatment used at the JRC either.

My hope is that through learning more about the JRC, others will also be galvanized to join the larger struggle against all forms of institutions, segregation, and legally-sanctioned abuse of disabled people in the name of treatment, protection, mercy, or convenience. These documents may be invaluable for researchers, journalists, advocates, activists, and various others. (Many documents are hosted here as mirrors to their original sources, even if they continue to be available online elsewhere. I have chosen to do that to ensure that multiple copies are available and the information is preserved, in case other websites are taken down, hacked, or create broken links.)


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Note

There is an important difference between contingent electric shock, the method that JRC uses, and another form of treatment known as electrostatic or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT is intended to be administered while the person receiving it is sedated, and is used to electrically alter brain waves through artificially inducing seizures. ECT is typically considered a treatment for depression. ECT also has a history of frequent involuntary and coercive use, which is also deeply ableist and abusive; however, there are people who voluntarily give their informed consent to receive ECT. The JRC does not gain consent from the people to whom they subject the GED device, which is much more analogous to a dog shock collar — staff press a button on a remote control, which then administers an extremely painful shock to the recipient.

Photo: Five people (four white, one east asian) holding hand-made protest signs outside the Food and Drug Administration's White Oak Campus in Maryland. The signs say, "No Compromise on Torture," "People Not Experiments," "Shocked for... hugging staff, swearing, nagging, getting out of seat, taking off coat, screaming, tensing up, closing eyes, raising hand. BAN the GED.," "Stop the Shocks," "Disability Rights are Human Rights," and "Torture Not Treatment." Left to right: Diane Engster, Lydia X. Z. Brown, Shain M. Neumeier, Kathleen Nicole O'Neal, and Patrick T. Ayers. Photo by Taylor C. Hall. January 2013..

Photo: Five people (four white, one east asian, all ambulatory and standing) holding hand-made protest signs outside the Food and Drug Administration’s White Oak Campus in Maryland. The signs say, “No Compromise on Torture,” “People Not Experiments,” “Shocked for… hugging staff, swearing, nagging, getting out of seat, taking off coat, screaming, tensing up, closing eyes, raising hand. BAN the GED.,” “Stop the Shocks,” “Disability Rights are Human Rights,” and “Torture Not Treatment.” Left to right: Diane Engster, Lydia X. Z. Brown, Shain M. Neumeier, Kathleen Nicole O’Neal, and Patrick T. Ayers. Photo by Taylor C. Hall. January 2013.


Documents & Resources


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Survivor Jennifer Msumba’s Blog (and other work)

Biracial black woman, Jennifer Msumba, speaking in interview with CBS.

Photo: Biracial black woman, Jennifer Msumba, speaking in interview with CBS’s Anna Werner, 5 August 2014.

Jennifer Msumba, a biracial autistic woman, was held in the Judge Rotenberg Center for several years from March 2002 to April 2009. After testifying via video at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory panel hearing in April 2014, she began to write a blog documenting her experiences at the JRC. She also spoke on an October 2014 panel (along with disabled attorneys Deepa Goraya and Shain Neumeier) at Georgetown University on disability and institutional abuse.


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Additional Stories/Accounts from Survivors

Some of the links in this section are cross-listed in the archive, as these are intended to highlight survivors’ accounts.


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Survivor Andre McCollins’s 2012 Civil Trial Coverage 

Young Black man, Andre McCollins, staring past the camera.

Photo: Young Black man, Andre McCollins, staring past the camera, 3 September 2012. Photo by Andres Serrano.

In 2002, JRC staff shocked Andre McCollins, a black and autistic teenager, 31 times in seven hours while in four-point restraints for refusing to take off his jacket (and saying “no”) when asked. All but two of the shocks were for “tensing up” or “screaming.” McCollins and his mother, Cheryl, brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against the JRC, which went to trial in April 2012 after the JRC’s lawyers spent years trying to suppress the video footage of the electric shocks. This case marked the first time video of the shocks (photosensitive epilepsy warning on the video, which is also extremely graphic) ever aired publicly. Shain M. Neumeier, an autistic and multiply-disabled attorney (and my partner), attended most of this trial and wrote this series of articles on the events.

Autistic Self Advocacy Network “The Judge Rotenberg Center on Trial” series (April 2012):

Additionally, Andre McCollins’s recording sheet from the day when he received 31 shocks:

Emily Titon, a short white person, hugging Cheryl McCollins, a tall Black woman, in the rain, while unloading boxes with printed signatures on a petition to ban the shocks.

Photo: Emily Titon, a short white person, hugging Cheryl McCollins, a tall Black woman, in the rain, while unloading boxes with printed signatures on a petition to ban the shocks to be delivered in the Massachusetts State House on 9 May 2012. Photo by Charles Krupa.


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U.S. State Government Agencies

Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services (formerly Department of Mental Retardation)

Massachusetts Department of Education

Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission

Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, MassHealth

New York State Education Department

New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (now Office for People with Developmental Disabilities) and Department of Education

California Department of Social Services

District of Columbia, Office of the Attorney General


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U.S. Federal Government Agencies

U.S. Food and Drug Administration

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

U.S. National Council on Disability

United States Mission to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva


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U.S. Court Cases Involving JRC

Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc., et al. v. Commissioners of the Department of Developmental Services and the Department of Early Education and Care (Bristol County Probate and Family Court)

The case was originally filed in 1986 when JRC was known as the Behavior Research Institute. The named defendants have also been changed since 1986, as the original defendant was Mary Kay Leonard, Director of the former Office for Children.

Antwone Nicholson and Evelyn Nicholson v. Freeport Union School District and the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, Inc. (Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department)

Evelyn Nicholson and Antwone Nicholson v. State of New York (Court of Claims)


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The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture


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Independent and Nonprofit/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Reports and Letters


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Advocate/Activist Testimony

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Notice of Proposed Rule-Making to Ban Contingent Electric Shock Aversive Conditioning Devices, April 2016 (comments due 25 July 2016)

Massachusetts Legislature, Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, July 2015

U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Advisory Panel Hearing, April 2014

Massachusetts Legislature, Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, July 2011

Fredda Brown expert testimony against use of aversives


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Op-Eds/Editorials


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Blog Articles

By Others

By Autistic Hoya (Lydia Brown)

  • Level III Aversives and the Judge Rotenberg Center
    A summary of my testimony and the JRC’s testimony at a 2011 hearing of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services regarding new regulations (promulgated) prohibiting the use of the graduated electronic decelerator (GED) shock device on newly admitted students at the JRC.
  • End the torture. Make this go viral. (11 April 2012)
    A post regarding the clip from surveillance footage of autistic teenager Andre McCollins receiving 31 shocks in seven hours while at the JRC in 2002 that was aired during a civil trial against the JRC in April 2012.
  • Do you remember the Autistic boy inside the bag? (5 May 2012)
    A letter to readers regarding former JRC staffer Gregory Miller’s petition to end electric shock at the JRC.
  • What they do to us is intolerable! (18 May 2012)
    A summary of a workshop that I co-presented with Emily Titon at the TASH New England conference in May 2012 about the JRC’s practices and history.
  • The End of Torture at the Judge Rotenberg Center? (15 February 2013)
    Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick’s administration files a motion to vacate (render null) the 1987 court settlement that’s kept the JRC open and that the JRC has been using to justify its activities. (Those documents are linked above.)
  • Another Blow to the Judge Rotenberg Center (27 February 2013)
    A press release from New York City Councilman Vincent Gentile calling for 120 students to be removed and $13 million to be cut from the JRC’s revenue, from February 2013.
  • Updates on the Judge Rotenberg Center and Autistic Hoya in the News (4 April 2013)
    A smattering of updates including links to uploads (original, high contrast, and text-accessible) of the NYSED’s 2013 letter to the JRC, and the two letters from CMS to the Massachusetts EOHHS from 2012. (Those letters are linked above.)

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News Articles

News articles are organized chronologically from oldest to newest.


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From the JRC/BRI (and supporters) directly


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Videos


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Other Resources

Fact Sheets/Flyers

Websites/Blogs


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The Judge Rotenberg Center:
An Environment of Torture

Infographic by Cascades Islwyn (2015)

Click image to zoom. Caption below image.

detailed infographic on JRC. full caption in text on page.

[Image description written by Vlad Drăculea: this is an info-graphic that is mostly text, with one pie-graph in the center, but otherwise consists of bullet lists and short blurbs citing the injustices regularly committed by the Judge Rotenberg Center.

There are three horizontal sections. The top section contains a large cream-color title banner framed mostly in a dark-salmon color. In large fonts, the title reads:

The Judge Rotenberg Center: An Environment of Torture

The next horizontal section contains three black vertical sub-sections banded at the top by a muted-teal-color banner that spans the width of the info-graphic. The text on this banner reads:

What is the JRC?

The JRC, in Canton, Massachusetts, is legally considered a residential school, and is licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Students with disabilities at the JRC are subjected to torture techniques: shock aversives, food and sleep deprivation, social isolation, restraint, and seclusion.

This banner points to the left-most sub-section, where the text reads:

“ By the Numbers:

6: Numbers of deaths due to JRC abuse and negligence (if not more)
52: Millions of dollars of revenue the JRC makes every year.
240: Number of students at the JRC currently (approx.)
80: Number of students of JRC who are subjected to shocks (approx.)
5,000: Number of shocks one student received in one day.
2: Years some students are kept in almost constant restraint.
In the center-most section, there is a pie chart, titled:

Racial Disproportionality at the JRC:

Below the chart are numbers associated with each color in the chart. Text reads:

45% Black/African American; 28.1% Latino/a; 21.1% White; 3.9% Pacific Islander; 1.6% Multiracial

The right-most sub-section contains a quote:

“The rights of the students of the JRC subjected to Level III Aversive Interventions by means of electric shock and physical means of restraints have been violated under the UN Convention Against Torture and other international standards.” – Juan E. Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture

At the bottom of the middle horizontal section, there is another banner that spans the width of the info-graphic, this time dark-salmon-color and pointing at the Méndez quote above on the right. The text on this banner reads:

The JRC uses 2 shock aversive devices on students: the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED), which delivers a shock of 15.5 milliamps lasting up to 2 seconds, and the GED-4 which subjects students to stronger shocks of 45.5 milliamps. For reference, most stun belts deliver shocks of approximately 3-4 milliamps. The shocks often cause blistering red spots.

The lowest horizontal section is divided into two sub-sections. The lower-left section has a cream-color background and consists of a bullet list. The text reads:

JRC students are shocked as punishment for:

• involuntary body movements,
• waving hands,
• putting fingers in one’s own ears,
• tensing up one’s body,
• not answering staff quickly enough,
• screaming while being shocked,
• closing eyes for more than 15 seconds,
• reacting in fear to other students being shocked,
• standing up, asking to use the bathroom,
• raising one’s hand,
• swearing,
• saying “no”,
• stopping work for more than 10 seconds,
• interrupting others,
• nagging,
• whispering,
• slouching,
• tearing up paper,
• attempting to remove shock electrodes,
• making 5 noises in one hour.

The lower-right sub-section is muted-teal and its text reads:

The JRC has created an environment of fear for students with disabilities who attend the school. Its practices are torturous and traumatizing for students. It has shown a complete lack of regard for the safety and wellbeing of its students.

Where to go from here?

In 2011, the JRC was banned from using physical aversives on new admissions to JRC. However, many JRC students have been at the school for years and still are being subjected to physical aversives. The school is adamant to keep using shock punishments on its students.

Currently, the JRC relies on an outdated court settlement from 1987 as a defense against regulation of its use of physical aversives. This court order was extended indefinitely, and allows the JRC unchecked power to abuse JRC students. Overturning this court order would be a step in challenging the JRC.

In 2014, an FDA advisory board recommended that the GED and GED-4 that JRC uses be banned. The hearing included testimony from former students and disability rights activists. This advisory panel does not have the authority to ban the aversives, but the FDA could take its recommendation.

SHUT DOWN THE JRC

End of image description.]

Contact Me

+1 (202) 618-0187 (voice or text)
lydia@autistichoya.com

About

I am an educator, activist/organizer, speaker/trainer, policy advocate, and writer focused on violence against multiply-marginalized disabled people.
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