Lydia X. Z. Brown

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Judge Rotenberg Center

Living Archive & Repository on the Judge Rotenberg Center’s Abuses

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 sections 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. (I started cataloging links and documents related to the JRC around 2011/2012.) This is also a living archive, which means new items will always be added (as new ones are put out into the world, and as I remember to add older items) and this page is never meant to be considered complete. Please note I also frequently have documents that I have not put on this page, out of privacy or strategic concerns. Feel free to email me at lydia@autistichoya.com if you have a document or know of an article, video, blog post, or other item somewhere that should be added to this page. If you are currently at JRC, formerly at JRC, a family member or friend of someone at JRC, or a current or past employee at JRC, and you would like a more secure way to contact me, you can reach out at the same address and I can arrange an encrypted communication method.

(living archive last updated 20 December 2018)


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Brief Background

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, Letters to the Editor

Blog Posts/Articles

News Articles

Other Articles (Scholarly, Print, Independent, etc.)

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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Update (October 2018)

In October 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s director Scott Gottlieb announced the agency’s intent to finalize the ban on the shocks (and any other device that might have been invented to be used for the same purpose), as part of a Fall 2018 Unified Agenda.

Past 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.

Past Update (June 2015)

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. In 2017, Jennifer Msumba began posting live vlog recordings discussing torture at the JRC to her YouTube channel.


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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 by Shain Neumeier (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 Attorney General’s Office

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

Photo: Freeze-frame from My Fox Boston/Fox 25 News footage during April 2012 medical malpractice trial against JRC for torturing Andre McCollins. This image shows Andre McCollins’s attorney Ben Novotny speaking to the jury while gesturing with his thumb, to mime pressing a shock button. The judge and court clerk look on. The courtroom features wood paneling, wood furniture, and several bookcases of bound law books.

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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United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture


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

Image

Photo: Sam Crane, Julia Bascom, Nancy Weiss, and Nicole Jorwic stand behind 3 stacks of white boxes on dollies. The signs on the boxes say “290,000 Signatures calling on the FDA to #StopTheShock”.

ADAPT National

Alliance to Prevent Restraint, Aversive Interventions, and Seclusion

Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)

Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY)

  • Letter from the Community Alliance for Ethical Treatment for Youth (CAFETY) on Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services proposed regulations to limit aversives, prepared by Shain Neumeier (2011)

Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI)

Judge Isaac Borenstein, court-appointed monitor over JRC post-2007

Individual Advocates and Coalitions


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Advocate/Activist Testimony

Photo: Collage of four images showing Shain M. Neumeier testifying before the FDA’s 2014 hearing, Lydia X. Z. Brown testifying before the same hearing, a copy of MDRI’s Torture Not Treatment report with Occupy JRC “Stop the Torture” stickers, and Shain M. Neumeier preparing to testify at the hearing. This hearing took place in Gaithersburg, Maryland, on 24 April 2014. First and fourth photos by Lydia X. Z. Brown. Second photo by Corey Sauer. Third photo by Emily Titon.

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 General Court (State Legislature), Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, July 2015

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

Massachusetts General Court (State Legislature), Joint Committee on Children, Families, and Persons with Disabilities, July 2011

Letter to American Psychological Association, 2007

Fredda Brown expert testimony against use of aversives


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Op-Eds, Letters to the Editor, and Editorials

Op-eds, letters to the editor, and editorials are listed from oldest to newest.


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Blog Posts/Articles

Blog posts/articles are listed from oldest to newest.

 


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News Articles

Photo: Shain M. Neumeier (attorney-activist against JRC), Jennifer Msumba (musician and JRC survivor), and Deepinder K. Goraya (disability rights attorney) sitting together as they speak on a panel called Human Rights Aren’t For Us: Disability and Legalized Abuse at Georgetown University on 28 October 2014. Beside Shain is an ASL interpreter signing. Behind the panelists is a chalkboard and a screen showing a PowerPoint slide with the name of the event, the speakers’ names, and a cropped photo of Shain protesting against the JRC. This panel was part of Lydia X. Z. Brown’s Lecture and Performance Series on Disability Justice. Photo by Saman Asdjodi. 

News articles are listed from oldest to newest, broken down by time period. (The time periods may change as more articles are added to this archive.)

Pre-1988 

1988 is the year that Matthew Israel began using the graduated electronic decelerator (GED).

1988 – 2011

2011 was the final year that JRC operated before footage of staff torturing Andre McCollins with repeated shocks became public by court ruling.

2012 – 2014

2014 was the year that the Food and Drug Administration held its hearing discussing the possibility of a ban on the GED, at which survivors Ian Cook and Jennifer Msumba gave public testimony.

2015 – 2017

Post-2014, disability rights group ADAPT publicly joined the fight against JRC on multiple fronts, while many groups and individual activists lobbied the FDA to act on its advisory panel’s recommendation to ban the GED.

2018 – Present


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Photo: A collage of three images from ADAPT National’s March 2018 protest against JRC in park near U.S. Food and Drug Administration director Scott Gottlieb’s house. The top image shows a march largely of people using wheelchairs, outdoors. The bottom left image shows part of the park occupation and a large banner that says in handwritten letters “So Ban Shock Punishment Already.” The bottom right image shows two smiling wheelchair-users. On the left is Dawn Russell, who is wearing a red shirt that says “#StopTheShock: Trauma Is Not Treatment!” with the second line inside the outline of a stop sign. On the right is Cal Montgomery. All photos by John Zangas.


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From the JRC/BRI (and supporters) directly


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Videos

Videos are listed from oldest to newest. Apologies that exact dates are missing for some of the Fox broadcasts.


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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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