What’s happening at the Judge Rotenberg Center?

People with disabilities, ASAN, and our allies are fighting to end the use of electric shock devices for behavior modification at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC). 

We’ve been working together to try and stop the JRC for more than 10 years. 

We call our campaign #StopTheShock. To help this campaign succeed, we are asking for your help!

The JRC is an institution in Massachusetts where people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), mental health disabilities, and learning disabilities live. Many autistic people live there. 

Some people at the JRC get forced to wear an electric shock device. The electric shock device is attached to the person’s body. A staff member will use a remote control to shock people. The device punishes the wearer by giving them electric shocks. 

These electric shocks are very painful. They can cause burns. They also cause people to be scared and stressed. Many people develop mental health disabilities like anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is torture.

Some behavior the JRC punishes people with shocks for include: 

      • Standing up 

      • Swearing 

      • Not taking off a coat

      • Flapping their hands 

      • Noises or movements that they make because of their disability 

      • Screaming in pain while being shocked 

    The JRC says the people who live there struggle not to hurt themselves or others. The JRC says they need to use the devices on the people who live there.

    But the JRC is the only place in the United States that uses electric shocks. All across America, people with the same disabilities as the people at the JRC get support that helps them with the exact same problems, without torture. 

    How Do We #StopTheShock?

    The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a government agency in charge of making sure food and medicine are safe. The FDA says if a food or medicine is safe. If a medicine is not safe, they can ban it. This means that no one in the US can use or sell the medicine. They can do the same thing for medical devices. If the FDA bans a device, no one can use it in the US. 

    ASAN and our allies asked the FDA to ban the electric shock device. Right now, the FDA is working to ban electric shock devices. The JRC will not be able to use the devices if they get banned. To ban electric shock devices, the FDA must make a rule. A rule tells people what they are allowed to do. It also tells people what they are not allowed to do.

    The FDA has put out a proposed rule. A proposed rule is an idea or draft of a rule. That means people don’t have to follow the rule yet. They only have to follow the rule if it gets passed.

    The FDA asked for public comments on the proposed rule. Public comments are a way for people to share ideas with the government. Public comments let the government know what everyday people think about a rule or law. 

    People told the FDA what they think about the proposed rule. Many people said they want the FDA to ban electric shock devices.

    Some people don’t want the FDA to ban electric shock devices. Those people are trying to get Congress to stop the FDA from banning electric shock devices. One way that Congress can do this is by putting a rider in a bill that would take away the FDA’s power to ban devices that a court says is okay to use. This is a problem because courts have said it is okay for the JRC to use electric shock devices on many residents. If the bill passes through Congress with this rider, the FDA will not be able to stop the JRC from shocking people.

    #StopTheShock Timeline

    Here is a timeline of the efforts around creating a rule to ban electric shock devices:

    2014 – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a big meeting. It invited lots of people, including autistic self-advocates and the JRC itself. At that meeting, the FDA decided the electric shock devices were too dangerous to use. 

    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 electric shock devices. 

    2020 – The FDA issued the rule that banned the electric shock devices. But the JRC did not start to follow the rule. Instead, the JRC sued the FDA so they could keep hurting people with disabilities. The JRC took their lawsuit to the DC Circuit Court.

    2021 – The DC Circuit Court overturned the ban. They said that the FDA could not ban the device. That means the JRC can keep using the devices. 

    2022 – Every year, Congress makes new laws to figure out how to spend money. These are called omnibus bills. ASAN and the disability community advocated for a new rule to get put in the 2022 omnibus bill. This new rule gave the FDA the power to ban the electric shock device.

    2024, the FDA created a new proposed rule to ban the electric shock device. The FDA asked for public comments on the draft of the rule. Hundreds of people submitted comments.March 2024 – The FDA created a new proposed rule to ban the electric shock device. The FDA is asked for public comments on the draft of the rule. Hundreds of people wrote public comments to the FDA about the proposed rule.

    NOW – Someone in Congress added a rider to a funding bill. The rider would stop the FDA from being able to ban devices that a court has said are okay to use, including the electric shock devices. This goes against what Congress said in 2022, when they gave the FDA the power to ban the electric shock device. We need to make sure that the rider is taken out of the bill before the bill becomes a law.

    How can you help?

    Use the tools in this action alert to call people in the committee that will mark up the appropriations bill. Use our script to tell them to remove the rider in section 722.

    Your support helped get the ban issued in 2020. We can do it again!

    What can we do about it?

    Ways You Can Act Now!
      • Use the tools in this action alert to call people in the committee that will mark up the appropriations bill. Use our script to tell them to remove the rider in section 722.
      • Stay up to date on latest developments by signing up for our newsletter.
      • Write an op-ed or letter to the editor for your local newspaper letting your neighborhood know why it is so important to #StopTheShock. We provide a template to help you get started. Be sure to send us the article once it is published!
        If you haven’t written an op-ed before, check out the Op-ed Project to learn more, including how to decide where to pitch pieces.

    Your advocacy is what has gotten us here today, and your advocacy is what will make sure we #StopTheShock.

    Past Campaigns

    In early 2024, we asked you to submit a  public comment to the FDA supporting a proposed rule banning electric shock devices for behavior modification. We created a plain language guide and a webinar to explain how.

    In the winter of 2022, we organized a virtual hill visit where self advocates across the country met with their Members of Congress to make their voices heard on #StoptheShock. In preparation for this event, we held a training on how to schedule a meeting with your Member of Congress’ office and make your case to them around important issues. 

    In the fall of 2022, we fought for the inclusion of the GED ban in the FDASLA, a must-pass bill about the FDA. While the House included the ban in their version of the bill, the Senate passed a “clean” version stripping this out and other important aspects. This is incredibly disappointing as Senators would rather cave to pressure instead of doing their jobs.

    In May of 2022, ASAN ran a campaign to demand that ABAI, the governing body of ABA practitioners, remove the JRC as a sponsor, vendor, and presenter, and bar them from future conferences. We hosted a virtual and in-person protest, flooding their conference hashtags and passing out flyers in Boston where it was held. In November of 2022, ABAI finally released a statement opposing the use of the device. ABAI’s change of heart does not change ASAN’s position on them or ABA. You can learn more about ABAI with our fact sheet here.

    On May 4th 2022, the New York State legislature stood with disability rights advocates in announcing new legislation targeting facilities that use electric shocks on people with disabilities. The bill, “Andre’s Law,” is named in honor of Andre McCollins, a survivor of electric shock torture and other forms of aversive conditioning. Andre’s Law resulted in a huge state mobilization, the type of pressure that is key to finally putting an end to this barbaric practice. While the New York state legislature entered recess before the bill could be passed this term, the widespread, bipartisan support Andre’s Law garnered indicates the importance of similar legislation at the federal level. The bill has been introduced in the 2023 session and ASAN is advocating for passage of the bill. 

    In 2019, ASAN along with many other disability advocates across the nation pressured the FDA to finally act on its findings that the device caused harm in a hearing in 2014. For five years, the FDA failed to act, prompting ASAN, along with 243 other organizations, to draft and sign a letter urging them to ban the device. This same year, disability advocates across the nation organized wait ins in which advocates occupied the offices of their representatives for five hours, each hour representing one year of waiting for the FDA to pass the ban they promised they would. This campaign, known as #WeAreStill Waiting, ultimately resulted in the 2019 FDA ban.

    In 2018, ASAN stood with over 290,000 of our community members and 230 other organizations calling upon the FDA to ban the electric skin shock devices. These demands came in the form of an open letter and signed petition, hand delivered to the FDA’s office. As part of this delivery, ASAN and a coalition of other disability rights organizations met with Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, head of the FDA’s Center for Radiological Health and Medical Devices. This meeting was the culmination of a call-a-thon and months of letter writing to press the FDA to act on their 2014 condemnation of the device.


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