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State House Committee to Weigh Ban of Electric Shocks on Children

Nearly a quarter-million people have signed a petition urging the House to ban the practice.

Massachusetts tends to consider itself a progressive state but it contains what is believed to be the only youth center in the country where powerful electric shocks are given to disabled children to control their behavior. And activists are demanding that the Legislature stops allowing a practice the United Nations has deemed torture. 

Dozens of protesters came to the State House Saturday afternoon to urge the House to pass an amendment forbidding the use of aversive therapies. The Senate approved two versions of the ban, attached to a budget bill, the previous week.

One amendment seeks an outright ban on the practice and the other would codify regulations implemented in October by the Patrick Administration. These regulations allow the use of electric shocks for children who entered the center before Sept. 1 and for whom the shocks are part of a court-ordered treatment plan.

The practice has received nationaland international – attention in recent weeks after a former teacher's assistant at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton organized an online petition with Change.org demanding that Massachusetts outlaw the practice of shocking kids. As of Monday afternoon, 241,265 people had signed it; over 9,000 of those are from Massachusetts.

"Rather than shocking students for only severe behaviors, student behavior plans at JRC dictated that we shock certain students for even the most minor of behavioral issues like closing their eyes for 15 seconds while sitting at the desk, pulling apart a loose piece of thread, tearing an empty used paper cup, or for standing up and raising a hand to ask to go to the bathroom," Gregory Miller, the former assistant who says he regrets participating in the shock treatment, wrote in the petition. 

Miller was among the approximately 70 demonstrators at the State House Saturday. He was joined by Sen. Brian Joyce (D-Milton), who has spearheaded the Senate effort over the past 12 years to ban the use of aversive therapies. During that time, the Senate has passed amendments banning their use but these measures they have not made it into the House versions of the budget. (.)

The next step in the process is for a Conference Committee comprised of three representatives and three senators to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate budgets and send a unified version to both chambers by the end of June for passage. 

On Monday, it was announced that the Conference Committee will include Sen. Stephen M. Brewer (D-Barre), Sen. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster), Sen. Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), Rep. Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Rep. Stephen Kulik (D-Worthington) and Rep. Viriato Manuel deMacedo (R-Plymouth).

And Sunday the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, called for a federal investigation into the Judge Rotenberg Center. His predecesor called what is happening at the JRC "torture."

'I regret having participated' 

According to Jonathan Perri of Change.org, Miller decided to start the petition after a video of 18-year-old Andre McCollins being shocked in 2002 after refusing to take off his coat was . The disturbing video also shows McCollins being strapped to a board for seven hours during which time he received 31 electric shocks by remote control. McCollins needed to receive medical treatment for serious burns to the skin as a result of the shocks. The strength of the shocks is 10 times that of a stun gun, according to a family lawyer. 

Andre's mother, Cheryl McCollins of Brooklyn, has said that she did not know the center was torturing her son. McCollins has been a central figure in the fight to ban the use of aversive therapies and was among the protesters on Beacon Hill Saturday.  

But officials at the Judge Rotenberg Center have defended the use of shock treatments, saying that they are safe, effective means of curbing violent behaviors

Joyce, however, has a different take on why the center has worked to thwart legal efforts to regulate their methods. "I am quite certain that the extraordinary sums of money involved play a significant role in the JRC's efforts to stop our actions to protect these children. This facility that started as a summer day school for six children in Rhode Island in 1971, grew to an $18 million operation by 2000. By 2006, revenues exceeded $56 million," he told Patch.

Marguerite Lawler June 06, 2012 at 02:16 PM
What is being done to these children is torture. Inflicting pain on people does not solve anything. Like the person who posted above me said, the only healing that has happened in my life has been due to the kindness and compassion of others, not through people who punished me. Let's be a compassionate state and society. We can make this world a better place through love, not through inflicting pain on people who are already suffering. We shouldn't have to even vote on this. This is common sense. Let's be a loving society. We will all live better, happier lives because of it.
Greg Miller June 07, 2012 at 03:16 AM
Please do not be so certain that Amendment #548 will pas or the school will stop the shocks. Sen. Brian Joyce announced that JRC has powerful lobbyists. Also misguided parents are rounded up by JRC to go into the legislature and say the same untruths that JRC has used for years. We need people to call their Representatives and especially the Conference Committee (see OccupyJRC.org), and to sign Ms. McCollin's online petition at Change.Org/JRC. This is the only chance that we have to make torture illegal in Massachusetts. - Greg Miller, former JRC staff Rep. Brian Dempsey 617-722-2990 Rep. Stephen Kulik 617-722-2847 Rep. Viriato Manuel deMacedo 617-722-2390 Sen. Stephen M. Brewer 617-722-1540 Sen. Jennifer Flanagan 617-722-1230 Sen. Michael Knapik 617-722-1415
Greg Miller June 07, 2012 at 03:27 AM
That's just it, D. Engster. The devices are strapped to students with lock and key. As for "negative reinforcement", the negative reinforcement is always there. Then if a student attempts at any time to try to hold the electrodes off of their skin, they are shocked for "any attempt to defeat the device". Strapped to the devices, helpless to defend themselves against the pain. I remember five students out of a room of 8 all being shocked because of their reactions to seeing a staff reach for a pencil in the apron around the waist to which remote controls were dangling. Two or three shocked for jumping out of their seats, one for "any attempt to defeat the device", a couple more for "yelling", all in reaction to reaching for a pencil! Staff had to learn to announce to all students, "Hey class, I am just reaching for my pencil! See? I am just reaching for my pencil!" Students were still on the edges of their seats. You can read what I wrote about it in the Canton Patch last September (2011).
Sera Davidow June 07, 2012 at 11:08 AM
So, just a small handful of people have posted so far on the Facebook pages of members of the Conference Committee. It's great if you're calling and writing (and PLEASE keep that going!), but the Facebook page is a PUBLIC place to let everyone know what the public is asking of a politician. Three Conference Committee Members have Facebook pages. Let's get everyone we know to post there and ask them to support Senate Budget Amendment #548 requiring a full ban on shocks and other aversives at JRC! http://www.facebook.com/pages/State-Representative-Vinny-deMacedo/301987913324 http://www.facebook.com/SenatorBrewer http://www.facebook.com/SenJenFlanagan
Jeanne Farago June 20, 2012 at 03:26 AM
Human rights should be extended to all people! This sick torture is a violation of civil and human rights! The fact that there is a vote needed at all is disturbing! 548 needs to pass!

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