TASH New England's Better Supports, Better Lifestyles in Today’s Challenging World Conference on Friday 11 May 2012 at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. From left to right: Emily Titon, Gregory Miller, and me.
The Friday morning session was called "What They Do to Us is Intolerable! A Discussion About Restraints, Seclusion Time Outs, and Aversives," and it was organized by Emily Titon, an amazing Autistic woman who in addition to serving on the boards of TASH national and TASH New England and the Rhode Island Advocates in Action, has also co-founded the Rhode Island chapter of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network.
(I was informed that I was co-presenting that this session after Emily had already told the conference organizer.)
I hadn't expected to be discussing the history of the Judge Rotenberg Center and its use of electric shock, food deprivation, prolonged restraint, and fear as forms of "treatment" while standing less than six feet away from the former JRC employee who has written a 250,000+ signature strong petition demanding an end to the electric shock "treatment." Gregory Miller is a man with the courage to speak against egregious violations of human rights even in the face of a lawsuit brought against him by the JRC's powerful army of lawyers and backed by the JRC's money.
At $250,000 each year per student, the JRC's revenue allows the institution to fund lobbyists, lawyers, parents, and staff to flood public legislative and regulatory hearings with brainwashed testimony built on a castle of lies and half-truths. That same fat pocketbook also gives the JRC the musclepower to effectively silence any would-be whistleblowers and prevent the truth about their methods from reaching the public.
But the walls protecting the JRC are slowly crumbling. While Massachusetts has repeatedly failed to pass legislation banning the use of electric shocks, we've begun to take small steps forward -- toward the ultimate and permanent closure of the institution.
New York, the state that provides the vast majority of the JRC's residents, passed legislation banning the use of electric shock on any residents from New York, though people from New York still comprise the majority of the JRC's students.
Matthew Israel, the JRC's founder, was forced to resign last year in a plea bargain after he faced perjury charges and charges of intentionally destroying evidence in a 2007 incident that resulted in the repeated shocking of two students who hadn't even engaged in dangerous or self-injurious behavior.
The Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services enacted into law regulations that ban the use of aversives, including electric shock, on any students admitted after September 2011, though the regulations do allow for the use of electric shock where it was included in court-approved behavior plans created before September 2011.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture decried the JRC's practices as torture after receiving a report from Disability Rights International.
The U.S. Department of Justice's civil rights division opened an investigation into the JRC in December 2010, though the investigation has produced little tangible.
And the Massachusetts Senate has repeatedly passed a ban on aversives, although this ban has never passed through the Massachusetts House.
Let's also not forget that first California, and then Rhode Island, prohibited the use of aversive interventions favored by Matthew Israel, in whose care at least six students have died as a direct or indirect result of the aversive intervention program, resulting in the JRC's final relocation to Massachusetts where the facility still stands today.
Last month, in a civil trial against the Judge Rotenberg Center, a judge unsealed graphic video footage of then-eighteen Andre McCollins receiving thirty-one electric shocks after refusing to remove his jacket. Footage of that video has received hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube.
Shortly afterward, Greg Miller, the former JRC employee who joined Emily and I at the TASH New England conference a week ago, wrote a petition demanding the end of electric shock aversives, which has received over 250,000 signatures to date. The JRC has decided to sue him in an attempt to silence him. They've accused him of defamation and making false statements, as well as being a disgruntled employee who was fired, when in fact, Greg resigned and has documentation of his resignation. Greg has made several media appearances in the last two weeks in the hopes of galvanizing the public further to action against the JRC.
Today, Massachusetts State Senator Brian Joyce, who actually represents the district where the JRC is located, filed two anti-aversives amendments to the budget that will be debated starting this coming Wednesday. The first of the amendments would solidify the DDS regulations promulgated last year by codifying them and giving further protection against potential suit. The second amendment is a complete ban on aversives, which the Senate has previously passed on multiple occasions. Massachusetts residents have until Wednesday or so to urge their State Senators to co-sponsor or support the anti-aversives amendments before they go to the floor for debate.
Also in this past week or so is the announcement of legislation jointly filed by New York Senator Martin Golden and Assemblywoman Joan Millman (S6294A-2011 and A9084A-2011) that would cut all state or public funding to any school, institution, or program that uses any form of aversives. Electric shock is specifically named because the legislation is in fact targeted at the JRC. As the majority of the JRC's residents are from New York, passing those bills could permanently damage the JRC's primary source of revenue, and possibly lead to the institution's closure because of inability to support itself financially.
In the wake of Andre's trial against the JRC and Greg's petition, several disability rights activists and community stakeholders have formed the group Occupy JRC, and are planning a 2 June 2012 rally in Canton near the JRC itself, at which Greg Miller will be one of the speakers along with disability rights advocates Senator Brian Joyce, Kat Whitehead (Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth), Dan Fisher (National Empowerment Center), Ari Ne'eman (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), Laurie Ahern (Disability Rights International), Daniel Hazen (Voices of the Heart), and Joseph Sitinbull (Helping Others to Promote Equality).
Yet while cautiously hopeful that the JRC is in fact under threat of imminent closure due to the increased publicity around its use of torture, and mounting campaigns from both government and grassroots opposition to its practices, it is imperative to remember that thousands of people with disabilities continue to languish in institutional facilities and nursing homes across the nation where abuse and neglect come in many forms.
Cuts to funding for public service providers have resulted in unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles to full integration and meaningful community inclusion, meaningless day-habilitation programs, denial of necessary medical attention, and deplorable conditions inside institutions and group homes. Schools routinely subject students with disabilities to all forms of restraint and seclusion as mechanisms for "dealing with" students whose behaviors and learning styles diverge too much from the norm to be acceptable.
Our society has built a culture of complete lack of empathy for those who diverge from norms or typicalities, with the bricks of dehumanization and othering laying the foundation for a world in which these types of abuse are perpetuated.