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Letter to the Editor: A Former Judge Rotenberg Center Worker Speaks Out

Posted Nov 13 2011 12:46pm

The Canton Patch has published a letter to the editor from a former employee of the Judge Rotenberg Center. The letter is described, “Greg Miller worked for the Rotenberg Center in Canton for three years and speaks about his experience.” and carries the warning that “Some of the content in this letter may be disturbing. Reader discretion is advised. ”

Mr. Miller discusses his decision to work at JRC, why he stayed for some 3 years, and the effects it had upon him. But most of the letter is focused up the methods used at the JRC:

I believe that electric shocks are harmful not only to the student receiving a shock, but to all other students in the room witnessing the traumatic shock incidences. Electric shocks are not necessary to help JRC’s population of students. I saw much use of electric shocks that I felt were unwarranted to appear in student plans, and it seemed to me that individualized student plans were designed without proper oversight or adequate safeguards to prevent misuse of the shock devices.

Here are a few of his experiences which he reports:

I have participated as required in following student plans to shock multiple students, including when they reacted to watching a fellow classmate tied up in a restraint chair getting attacked by a staffer with a plastic knife (being held) to the student’s throat. This was a judge-approved Clockwork-Orange-type “treatment” for a student who swallowed a small X-Acto knife blade. A staffer, according to the plan, would run up to the student who had all four limbs tied all day long to a restraint chair, and pretend to force a plastic knife down the student’s mouth while another staff pressed the remote control to give a shock to the student. The staff would repeatedly yell in a gruff voice, “Do you want to swallow a knife?”

and

I have witnessed terrible injuries including bloody scabs all over the torso, arms, and legs caused by the electrodes. While I have heard of Dr. Israel previously claiming that the injuries were due to staff not properly rotating electrodes after shocking a student, the reality was that some students exhibited behaviors resulting in up to 30 shocks in a day. Some students stopped their behaviors after receiving their maximum 30 shocks for the day. Most of the shock devices used two electrodes to pass current through a specific distance of human flesh to maximize the amount of pain from the same amount of current. Two red skin marks from electrodes per shock, times 30 shocks in a day, quickly adds up so that very soon electrodes will be placed over previous marks resulting in bloody scabs. In these cases, the multiple patches of bloody scabs have nothing to do with staff failing to rotate electrodes after shocking students. Rather it exemplifies that the electric shocks approach were not appropriate for the student, and that other approaches should have been found.

Dr. Israel has previously compared the electric shock devices to bee stings. I vividly remember nearly getting the wind knocked out of me during training at JRC back in 2003 when (I was) permitted to test out the weakest of JRC’s electric shock devices on my own arm. That was no bee sting!

I would encourage readers to read the entire letter Mr. Miller wrote .

  1. Shanna:
    Is there anything we can do to help get this place shut down?
  2. Ruth/STL:
    Occupy JRC!
  3. sharon:
    I can't bring myself to read the entire letter, the above alone makes me sick to my stomach. 30 shocks a day as a limit? Am I the only one who thinks, leaving aside the fact shocks should not be used at all, that if you need to apply that many then perhaps it is indicative of it's ineffectiveness? I find it very difficult to believe that a work culture that tolerates the above examples of aversive treatments could be a healthy or happy place for any of the students. I agree with Ruth/STL above.
  4. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E.:
    Sharon: "Am I the only one who thinks, leaving aside the fact shocks should not be used at all, that if you need to apply that many then perhaps it is indicative of it’s ineffectiveness?" No, by no means are you alone in thinking that. Skinner is probably spinning in his grave still... as I understand Skinner's work: best results come from pairing positive reinforcement with negative reinforcement (creating what Lewin would have called an 'approach-avoid conflict'), leaving punishment entirely out of the equation. He was firmly against punishment: experimental analysis demonstrated that it did not work... it was not effective. So it looks to me as if that piece of crap Matthew Israel learned nothing of value from the man he claims to have learned from. "I find it very difficult to believe that a work culture that tolerates the above examples of aversive treatments could be a healthy or happy place for any of the students." I also find that to be so. There is nothing about the way that place operates that could possibly make it anything but a place where fear rules, and where unhappiness prevails.
  5. sharon:
    Thanks David N Andrews for expanding on my thoughts. I live with exhibit A as an example that punishment doesn't work in the form of my autistic 3 yo son. If anything it tends to reinforce the behaviour, much to my chagrin.

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