Sen. Joyce Applauds Gov.’s Efforts to Stop Abuse at JRC
Commonwealth files motion to vacate court order allowing the use of shock treatment on disabled children

BOSTON – Senator Brian A. Joyce applauded Governor Deval Patrick and his administration for filing a motion in Probate and Family Court to vacate a court order that has been in place since 1987 allowing the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton to continue to use aversive therapies, like painful electric shocks, on disabled children.

“The governor has always been an ally when it comes to protecting these severely disabled children from the JRC’s barbaric practices,” said Joyce. “This comes on the heels of the FDA’s meeting with the JRC over their use of GED shock devices that have not even been approved for use but are strapped to disabled children right now administering painful skin shocks for simple misbehaviors. It is time for this order to be vacated and to close this dark chapter in how we allow disabled people to be treated in our state.”

In 1987, a settlement was reached between the JRC and the Commonwealth allowing the continued use of aversives. The court order was supposed to be vacated in 1988, but was extended indefinitely because the JRC was not yet licensed a year after the order’s issuance. At the time, the GED skin shock devices were not yet in use and aversive therapy consisted of water sprays, taste aversives, muscle squeezes, spanks, pinches and restrained time outs. The JRC continually defends its actions based on this court order, and claims that it denies the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) the right to regulate or prohibit the use of the painful skin shocks and other aversives.

“Our motion would vacate the 1987 court order, which is outdated and inconsistent with the current state of behavioral treatment for persons with disabilities,” said Alec Loftus, communications director for the Department of Health and Human Services. “JRC is the only provider in the country that uses electric skin shocks to control behavior in children and adults with intellectual disabilities. In response to Governor Patrick's concerns about these treatments, the Administration filed regulations in 2011 to ban the use of aversive therapies for any student who was not already receiving them through a court-approved treatment plan. As a result, no new behavioral plans with aversive therapies have been put into place since those regulations went into effect. Our goal is to ensure that all individuals in the Commonwealth receive safe treatments, in line with best practices in the medical field, and we are optimistic that the court will rule in our favor."

On Thursday, the Commissioners of DDS and the Department of Early Education and Care, as represented by the Attorney General’s Office, filed a motion to remove the court order and subject the JRC to the rules and regulations put forth by the departments. Since the original court order, the accepted standard of care has evolved drastically. Currently, professional opinion overwhelmingly believes that aversive therapies are substantially more intrusive and restrictive than alternative treatments. DDS regulations require programs like the JRC use the least intrusive and restrictive options available. Subjecting the JRC to these regulations would likely mean the elimination of the painful GED devices because they are “professionally unnecessary and inappropriate” and are “detrimental to the public interest.”