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Joint Letter to the Massachusetts Conference Committee

To members of the Conference Committee and Governor Deval Patrick,

We are writing as concerned members of the disability community to urge you to give your support to Amendment #548, which bans the use of electric shock aversive “therapy,” as contained in the Senate FY 13 Budget We ask that this be included in the FY 13 Budget Conference Committee Report.

For several years, Massachusetts has failed to pass a general and complete ban of this practice, which has allowed the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton to subject people with disabilities to torture in the name of treatment.

The United Nations has declared the use of electric shock as torture, and the U.S. Department of Justice initiated a civil rights investigation into the JRC’s practices. The JRC’s founder, Matthew Israel, was forced to resign last year after facing charges for destroying video evidence of abuses of the GED electric shock device.

This year, Cheryl McCollins sued the JRC for torturing her son Andre, which resulted in the public airing of footage of what these electric shocks look like. Former JRC employee Greg Miller wrote a petition that has nearly 250,000 signatures demanding the end of electric shock, but Massachusetts has yet to protect the rights of people with disabilities by ending the practice.

Contrary to the JRC’s claims, not only do students receive electric shocks for relatively minor behaviors such as standing up from a desk or swearing as well as for potentially dangerous behaviors, but severe self-injurious and destructive behaviors can be successfully treated using methods other than abuse and torture. In legislative hearings each year on legislation that would ban the shocks, professionals with expertise in developmental and intellectual disabilities testify about the ineffectiveness of electric shock and the myriad options for addressing problematic behavior other than electric shocking. There are no scientific, peer-reviewed studies that show any long-term efficacy of electric shock as a treatment, but there are documented cases of former JRC students receiving diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder after leaving the JRC.

Amendment #548 would mean the end of contingent electric shock in Massachusetts, and it would also mean a tremendous step forward in enshrining the rights of people with disabilities into the laws of the Commonwealth. As the JRC is the only institution in the entire nation that uses electric shock on people with disabilities, failure to adopt amendment #548 would allow the reputation of Massachusetts to suffer as the stand-alone state that refuses to protect human rights for people with disabilities.

When Matthew Israel first relocated to Rhode Island, that state banned the use of electric shocks. Israel’s final experiment, the JRC, has been in Massachusetts for over twenty years. Since Israel began “treating” people with disabilities, many have been subjected to torture that would not be legal if done to an animal, an inmate, or a non-disabled person.

As organizations and individuals committed to a future where all people with disabilities enjoy the same rights, access, and opportunity as people without disabilities, we implore you to ensure that Amendment #548 is enacted into law so that all people can receive necessary treatment, support, and services in an environment free of fear, abuse, and torture.




Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers
Autistic Self Advocacy Network of New England
Autistic Self Advocacy Network of Rhode Island
Boston Center for Independent Living
Coalition for the Legal Rights of People with Disabilities
Community Alliance for Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY)
The Consortium
Disability Policy Consortium
Harvard Law School Project on Disability
The Northeast Recovery Learning Community/Northeast Independent Living Program, Inc.
Rhode Island Disability Law Center
Support Network for Families of Western Massachusetts
Western Mass Recovery Learning Community

Autism National Committee
Autism Society of America
Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN)
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA)
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF)
Disability Rights International (DRI)
Families Against Restraint and Seclusion
Jay Nolan Community Services
National Autism Association
National Council on Independent Living
National Empowerment Center
Not Dead Yet
Parent to Parent USA
RespectAbility Law Center

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