Thursday, January 17, 2013
Joyce asks FDA to stop skin shocks at JRC

In testimony submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, state Senator Brian A. Joyce has requested that the agency ban the use of all graduated electronic decelerators (GEDs), or skin shock devices, which are currently being used to administer electric shocks to disabled children at the Canton-based Judge Rotenberg Center.

The FDA had notified the center in May 2011 that alterations made to the devices required FDA approval. After the JRC failed to adequately respond to the notice, according to Joyce, the FDA sent a second letter in June 2012. When the JRC again failed to comply, the FDA sent a third notice in December 2012, calling for a meeting between the two sides to ensure that the facility ceases use of the non-compliant devices.

Joyce, a longstanding critic of the JRC and its practices, submitted testimony requesting that the FDA forbid the school from using the GED devices on their students from this point forward.

“The Judge Rotenberg Center has clearly ignored the FDA’s concerns about the use of these skin shock devices for over a year and a half,” said Joyce. “In that time, many disabled children have been strapped to an unregulated device that emits painful electric shocks for simple misbehavior. The FDA has a unique opportunity to do what some in the commonwealth have lacked the political will to do: forever stop this barbaric punishment system for severely disabled children.”

Joyce, whose district includes Canton, Milton and five other surrounding towns, has proposed countless bills over the past two decades in an attempt to ban or severely restrict the JRC’s use of skin shocks, but none of the bills have made it out of the House of Representatives, which includes a few members who are ardent JRC supporters.

However, in 2011 the state Department of Developmental Services approved regulation changes that limited the use of Level III aversives (including shock therapy) to only those students who had an existing court-approved treatment plan as of September 1, 2011. Under the revised regulations, no new students can be approved for shock therapy treatment in Massachusetts.

The landmark amendment, which closely mirrors a bill that Joyce had previously filed in the Senate, was the latest in a string of blows for the JRC over the past two years.

In July 2010, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, in a nationally televised interview, characterized the school’s treatment methods as torture and called for an immediate federal investigation.

Then, in May 2011, the school’s founder and executive director, behavioral psychologist Dr. Matthew Israel, was indicted on criminal charges stemming from a 2007 incident at a JRC group home in which two students received dozens of shocks based on a prank phone call. Israel, who was charged with destroying the surveillance tapes, was forced to sever all ties to the school as part of a plea agreement that spared him from serving a prison sentence.

Most recently, the JRC made international headlines after video surveillance footage of a student being restrained and then repeatedly shocked was played in a Dedham courtroom and then re-aired on Fox 25 News.

The dramatic video, parts of which were played at the start of a civil trial against the school last spring, shows 18-year-old Andre McCollins screaming and writhing in pain from the skin shock applications as JRC staffers attempt to subdue him. The video later shows McCollins tied to a restraint board face-down and wearing a helmet — a position he was allegedly forced to remain in for several hours while receiving dozens of shocks.

As for the center’s recent refusal to cooperate with the FDA, Joyce characterized it as “another troubling sign in a long history of abuses.” He indicated that he would follow the FDA findings closely while still pursuing a ban on aversives in the state legislature in the upcoming legislative session.