#StopTheShock: The Judge Rotenberg Center, Torture, and How We can Stop It

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Some schools use restraint and seclusion on people with disabilities. Some use aversives. All three are very dangerous!

On this page, we will talk a lot about aversives. Aversives are a kind of punishment done to people with disabilities. They are used when someone wants a person with a disability to stop doing something. The point of an aversive is to make the person with a disability feel pain or discomfort. They can be anything, including really horrible things like refusing to let someone eat or electric shocks. 

There is a kind of aversive that is so bad that the United Nations said it was torture. It is used by only one place – the Judge Rotenberg Center.

The Judge Rotenberg Center and Electric Skin Shock Devices

The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is a facility in Canton, Massachusetts. The Judge Rotenberg Center tries to control the actions of its students using aversives. The worst aversive the JRC uses is an electric shock device called a Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED). 

The GED is attached to the student’s body. Using a remote control, someone else can use the GED to give an electric shock to the person wearing it. The JRC has electrocuted people for: 

  • Flapping their hands 
  • Standing up 
  • Swearing 
  • Not taking off a coat
  • Noises or movements that they make because of their disability 
  • Screaming in pain while being shocked

Use of the GED on someone has all kinds of bad side effects. It can burn skin or make someone unable to move. It can make people so scared they sometimes get mental health disabilities. 

The JRC says that they need to use the GED on the people who live there because they struggle not to hurt themselves or others. But the JRC is the only place in the United States that uses electric shocks. All across America, people with the exact same disabilities as the people at the JRC get support that helps them with the exact same problems, without aversives. 

The FDA and the Judge Rotenberg Center

People have been trying to get the electric shock devices used by the JRC banned since they were first made. The closest we have come to getting the devices banned is asking the FDA to do it. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power to ban the electric shock devices used by the JRC. More than five years ago, it held a big meeting. It invited lots of people, including autistic self-advocates and the JRC itself. At that meeting, the FDA found that the electric shock devices were too dangerous to use. 

Two years later, in 2016, the FDA created a proposed rule that would ban the devices. A “proposed rule” is a draft of a rule. The government asks the public to comment on the draft  before anyone has to follow it. Lots of people commented on the rule about the GEDs. 

In March 2020, the FDA finally released the final rule that banned the electric shock devices. Instead of following the rule, the JRC filed a lawsuit against the FDA so they could keep hurting people with disabilities. In July 2021, the DC Circuit Court overturned the ban. That means the JRC can keep using the devices. We’re still fighting to make sure that no one is tortured at the JRC.

For the most up-to-date information about the #StopTheShock fight, check out our Action Alert here.