What’s happening at the Judge Rotenberg Center?
The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) is an institution in Massachusetts for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD), mental health disabilities, and learning disabilities, including many autistic people. The people held at the JRC are disproportionately Black and brown. The Judge Rotenberg Center tortures some of the people living there using an electric shock device called a Gradual Electronic Decelerator (GED). Children and adults at the JRC are forced to wear the GED on their bodies. Using a remote control, someone else can use the GED to give an electric shock to the person wearing it. The JRC uses the GED as an “aversive:” they use the pain of the electric shock to punish people for doing certain things. For more information about ASAN’s work to end the device, see our issue tracker. To find out how you can help #StopTheShock, read on!
In December 2022, Congress included an amendment in the end of year omnibus bill which affirmed the FDA’s right to ban contingent electric shocks used for behavior modification. This amendment addresses the technicality that allowed a court in 2021 to overturn the FDA’s 2020 ban on the device. This is a direct result of decades of advocacy from self advocates like you.
ASAN is relieved to see that, after years of relentless advocacy by the disability community, Congress has listened to survivors, advocates, and allies and formally acknowledged the FDA’s power to pass a ban on the device. This is a victory, but we cannot close this chapter in history yet. The FDA must now ban the electric skin shock device again in order to #StopTheShock.
ASAN calls upon the FDA to pass the rule banning the electric skin shock device without delay. Each day that passes is another day that our community members are tortured and traumatized at the Judge Rotenberg Center.
In May of 2023, ASAN and 152 organizations sent a letter calling on the FDA to reissue the rule as quickly as possible. The JRC will certainly challenge any new rule in court as they have with previous attempts to ban torture in the name of treatment, but we are one critical step closer.
What can we do about it?
- 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.
- If you are a NY resident, call your state Senator and Assembly Member in support of Andre’s Law
- If you are a MA resident, call your state Senator and Representatives in support of House Bill H. 180
- Share this call to action and tell others about #StoptheShock! autisticadvocacy.org/stoptheshock
Your advocacy is what has gotten us here today, and your advocacy is what will make sure we #StopTheShock.
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.