Aversive Therapy in Massachusetts

The Globe reports on Governor Patrick's decision to ask Court to vacate order of Judicial oversight of JRC and its use of aversives. (February 2013)

Click here to read the joint position statement of The Arc and the American Association on Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD) on aversives and behavior modification. 

Boston Globe editorial defends Judge Rotenberg Center - argues paperwork errors should not be allowed to undermine pivotal work - "skin shocks, akin to a bee sting"  

January 17, 2008

Report says shock tapes destroyed against order

Boston Globe 

By Patricia Wen
Top officials at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center destroyed videotapes at the focus of an investigation into alleged abuse at one of its group homes after being ordered by state investigators to preserve the tapes, according to a report obtained by the Globe.  link to story

January 16, 2008

The Massachusetts Legislative Joint Committee on Families, Children and Persons with Disabilities held a hearing on bills that aim to ban or impose stringent restrictions on the use of aversive therapy.

We encourage Massachusetts residents to contact their own state senator and representative to ask that they speak out against painful aversive therapy using The Arc Action Center. 


January 15, 2008
World broadcast report
"A US school for children with behavioural problems is being sued for giving pupils electric shocks."

Click play button to listen (3 minute clip)



Why does the Boston Globe continue to defend JRC? - 5000 shocks in one night in 1994

Arc editorial
By Bill Henning, Boston Center for Independent Living & John Thomas, The Arc
In its editorial "A shocking error of judgment" (Dec. 21), the Globe seems to be following the example of Pontius Pilate.  By washing its hands of its past defense of the Judge Rotenberg Center, the Globe conveniently omits the fact that as recently as last year, its editorial page was defending JRC's methods.  click here to read the rest of the editorial

December 21, 2007
Arc report:

On December 17, 2007, DMR provided the Judge Rotenberg Center with a one-year certification to employ level III behavior modifications (electric shock aversive therapy) as per DMR regulations.

The Certification is conditional, subject to 8 stipulations identified by the Department in its report.

Yesterday, NY Governor Eliot Spitzer stated in a television interview:  “We are vehemently opposed to the techniques being used at that school.”  After saying he would like to bring all NY children home as soon as capacity to provide them with services is developed, Spitzer went on to state: "Clearly the practices at that school are wrong should be ended."  100 NY teens are at JRC.

Video clip from WNBC (3:33 min.)

December 23, 2007
  Click here to learn what happened.

December 18, 2007
Arc report:
The Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care, the state agency that licenses residential schools serving children 0-18 and C766-eligible individuals 18-22, released an investigative report today, outlining a number of appalling findings, including a discovery that one of the victims involved in the 8/26/07 “prank” involving 3 JRC clients, received first degree burns as a result of shocks administered by the Center’s GED aversive therapy device.  click here to read a summary and link to download entire report

December 17, 2007  

Officials investigating prank phone call that led to shock treatments

By Associated Press
BOSTON - State officials are investigating complaints that staff at the Judge Rotenberg Education Center gave three people — including two teens — unnecessary electric shock treatments after receiving a prank phone call from someone pretending to be from the office of the school’s founder. click here to read the rest of the story 

December 13, 2007
Arc report:

Massachusetts officials are investigating allegations that a former resident at the Judge Rotenberg Center phoned a JRC residence and ordered the residential staff to administer electric shock aversive therapy to three individuals.  According to the allegations, at least one individual was shocked 77 times in one night.


According to public records, the matter has been referred to law enforcement for review and will be processed as per Chapter 19c of the Massachusetts General Laws, upon completion of the investigative report.

December 12, 2007

Gray blasts use of special ed. school

Washington Examiner

By Bill Myers

WASHINGTON - District Council Chair Vincent C. Gray expressed anger that the city’s special education system continued to send children to a Massachusetts school that uses electric shocks as a form of discipline. click here to read the rest of the story 

December 1, 2007

They're older, but still fighting for a cause

Boston Globe 

By Irene Sege

CANTON - Debora Sherman, 78-year-old mother of two and grandmother of two, was making guacamole the other day when an item on the radio stopped her short.  click here to read the rest of the story 

October 28, 2007
LONDON - The Sunday Times of London, with the largest weekend circulation in the UK, publishes abridged version of Mother Jones article "School of Shock" by Jennifer Gonnerman, in the newspaper's magazine section.

September 24, 2007

Special ed is bane to children, boon to lawyers

Washington Examiner

By Bill Myers


WASHINGTON - What D.C. officials have acknowledged is a dangerous and deteriorating special education system has meant big paydays for the lawyers of James E. Brown & Associates. click here to read the rest of the story 

September 20, 2007

D.C. students sent to schools facing abuse claims

Washington Examiner

By Bill Myers
WASHINGTON - Dozens of the District of Columbia’s most vulnerable students have been farmed out to two schools that have been the subject of numerous allegations of abuse and neglect, an Examiner investigation found. click here to read the rest of the story  



Interview with Jennifer Gonnerman, author of JRC article in this month's Mother Jones magazine, and Greg Miller a former teacher's assistant at the school.  Gonnerman discusses JRC's use of electric shock aversive therapy as increasingly employed as "a routine disciplinary tool used on all different types of students" including many "higher-functioning" black and Latino kids from some of New York City's poorest neighborhoods such as South Bronx and Northern Harlem.  Link to streaming audio recording (7:45)


Mother Jones cover illustration

September, 2007
Mother Jones Magazine

In-depth feature article on the Judge Rotenberg Center, entitled "School of Shock". The author, Jennifer Gonnerman, is an award-winning New York-based writer and a Massachusetts native. Gonnerman spent nearly a year researching the story which takes a hard look at JRC's use of painful electric shock aversive therapy. In the course of writing the piece, she made several trips to Massachusetts, touring JRC and interviewing dozens of individuals depicted in the story.

Opening paragraph:

Rob Santana awoke terrified. He'd had that dream again, the one where silver wires ran under his shirt and into his pants, connecting to electrodes attached to his limbs and torso. Adults armed with surveillance cameras and remote-control activators watched his every move. One press of a button, and there was no telling where the shock would hit-his arm or leg or, worse, his stomach. All Rob knew was that the pain would be intense. click here to read the rest of the story 

August 30, 2007
D.C. Schools Chancellor calls for investigation of JRC's treatment of District students: "It's Nuts On Multiple Levels"
Washington Examiner
By Jonetta Rose Barras, Examiner Columnist

WASHINGTON - The District government is spending millions to send children to a controversial special education residential facility in Massachusetts that uses electric shock to discipline students. click here to read the rest of this column

A press conference was held in the Massachusetts State House. 
Hosted by State Senator Brian Joyce, the following individuals spoke
against painful behavioral therapies:


Kenneth Mollins (NY attorney)

State Representative Barbara L'Italien

State Representative Tom Sannicandro

Leo Sarkissian, Executive Director, The Arc of Massachusetts

Stan Eichner, Executive Director, Disability Law Center
 Click Play button to listen
42 minutes
Recorded on June 2, 2006

                 Stan Eichner, Disability Law Center

March 3, 2007

March 2, 2007
The Massachusetts Inspector General announced its review of $800,000 in overcharges made to Massachusetts state agencies and municipalities by the Judge Rotenberg Center.  Click here to read more...


In response to the New York State Department of Education Board of Regents' proposed amendments to education regulations that deal with the use of aversive interventions, the New York State Psychological Association formed a Task Force on Aversive Controls with Children to evaluate the regulations in use and to make recommendations about the use of aversive therapy with children with disabilities.  Click here to review the recommendations and reports prepared by the Task Force.

3/28/07 - CNN - Parents seek shock treatment for son  Except for a few words, Bradley Bernstein, 48, can't speak. He often beats himself bloody in the face and eyes.  At age three, Bradley was diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation. His parents, Fran and Bob Bernstein, say they've tried everything: restraints, psychotropic drugs, you name it. The only thing that gets Bradley to stop hitting himself, they say, is an electric cattle prod.  Read more, including reactions from:
  • A Massachusetts State Legislator who was formerly Director of Psychology at Belchertown (MA) State School
  • A Board Certified Behavior Analayst, psychologist and professor at Simmons College
  • A Senior Attorney at the Disability Law Center (Massachusetts)

11/6/06 - Newsday
announces a lawsuit filed by the mother of a young man from Freeport, New York, who received electric shock therapy at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts.  Charging that JRC is not certified to provide treatment to individuals with disabilities, and that the state of New York illegally spent an estimated $150 million to send students there, the lawsuit seeks to prevent New York from writing more checks to JRC.  Read more...

10/19/06 - The Massachusetts Division of Professional Licensure announces that 14 JRC clinicians have agreed to pay fines totaling $43,000 to the Board of Registration of Psychologists, to resolve allegations that they held themselves out as Psychologists and/or used the title “Psychologist” without having a valid Massachusetts license.  Read more...
10/5/06 - The Taunton Gazette describes heated debate within the Taunton School Committee regarding the approval of payment from the school district to JRC for the treatment of a 19-year-old city student.  Several School Committee members refused to approve payment to JRC, arguing that the school district should not continue to pick up the $18,000 monthly tab - or more than $200,000 a year - for aversive treatment they consider to be inhumane.  Read more...

In a two-part series entitled "Shock therapy defended," the Gazette further discusses the case of the 19-year-old Taunton student being treated at JRC, from the point of view of clinicians and family members of the student's who support aversive therapy.  Read more...

6/26/06 - Boston Globe story reports that the Disabled Person's Protection Commission has forwarded the case of a child who allegedly had multiple burns to the Norfolk County district attorney for criminal investigation.  Click here to read the article (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

The New York State Education Department has conducted unannounced site visits to the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, located in Canton, Massachusetts. A report from these visits "shows reason for serious concern regarding the school's use of aversive behavioral interventions. The Department has taken a series of actions to correct these practices."

Download a copy of the report (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Read the press release from the NY State Education Department (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

This new data underscores the need to pass pending state legislation to ban painful aversives in Massachusetts.

The previous iterations of H109 - An Act to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Disabled Persons, were S376, and H1120, co-sponsored by (former) Senator Jarrett Barrios and Representative Barbara L’Italien.  These bills died before the end of the 2005-2006 state legislative bill cycle.

During the FY2007 state budget debate, State Senator Brian Joyce introduced new language into the Senate's proposed budget that would ban aversives.  The proposed Senate budget language was identical to language contained within the Barrios/L'Italien bills.  This language was struck at the insistence of House members of the joint conference committee, tasked with reconciling the Senate and House proposalsState Representative Jeffrey Sánchez (Boston), is the uncle of a current JRC resident.  Sánchez has stated he is opposed to efforts to ban aversives.

Read ADDP's press release
Read ADDP's position paper on aversives (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Senator Joyce's move to add language to the FY2007 budget came only two months after the Joint Committee on Children and Families voted to send the Barrios and L’Italien bills into study (effectively killing the bill for the 2005-06 legislative Session). The controversial treatment, long opposed by mainstream disability and human rights organizations, received renewed attention during 2006 as agencies in other states such as New York and New Jersey took steps to remove students from the Judge Rotenberg Center, a Canton-based private school that uses aversive therapy on both children and adults with varying degrees of intellectual disabilities and mental illness. Students wear electrodes, forcibly strapped to their arms, legs and torso, that are activated by a switch thrown by a teacher when inappropriate behaviors are observed.

New York, which sends over 200 students to the Center, is currently the target of a lawsuit brought forth on behalf of the mother a 17-year-old New York boy who was allegedly shocked because he cursed. According to a 5/29/06 AP story, Kenneth Mollins, an attorney who represents the mother and her son, said "I don’t understand how your state allows this to go on."

"We don’t allow this treatment to be used on prisoners," said Sen. Brian Joyce (Milton), author of the Senate budget amendment that was adopted, "and we should not allow it to be used on innocent children."

Disability advocates were hopeful the Massachusetts House of Representatives would urge members of a joint Conference Committee, tasked with working out differences between the two branch’s budget plans, to support the Senate language banning aversives. 
The Arc and 19 other organizations called upon legislators to support the Senate's budget language.  To see a copy of our letter of support, click here (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).

Click here for a Litigation Timeline of the Judge Rotenberg Center, 1996-2006, as compiled by the Disability Law Center

Click here for a narrative history of JRC in Massachusetts, as compiled by Polyxane S. Cobb, of The Coalition for the Legal Rights of People with Disabilities (CLRD)* 
* This report covers history from the early 1980's to 2005 - licensing requirements have changed. As of 2007, three Massachusetts agencies have oversight over some or all of JRC’s operations:


Department of Mental Retardation: 115 CMR 5.14 (4) (f) Pertaining to certification of Level III behavior programs.


Department of Mental Retardation: 115 CMR 8.00 - 8.37 Pertaining to the licensing/certification process for DMR-funded services.


Department of Education: 603 CMR 18.00 and 28.09 Approves private schools for a six year period
Download latest review 2006-2007


Department of Early Education and Care 102 CMR 3.00 License residential programs serving children 0-18 and C766-eligible individuals 18-22.



The Association of Developmental Disabilities Providers (ADDP) supported the Senate budget amendment sponsored by Senator Brian Joyce.  ADDP is a diverse group of 106 community-based providers of direct care services and family support to those with developmental disabilities.  The membership holds more than 65 percent of the Department of Mental Retardation's community residential, day, and family support contracts.

September 4, 2007

National Public Radio Health & Science report
Aversive Therapy 2011-2012

On July 26, the Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities hosted a hearing on bills related to the use of aversives or painful punishments such as skin shocks, pinching or other similar practices. During the previous week, the Department of Developmental Services held hearings to limit the use of aversives on July 20 and 22.  Testimony from Steven Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center on Public Representation is provided through this link.

At the legislative hearing, Senate Chair Rodrigues and House Chair Khan presided. Members present included Jon Hecht, Jim O'Day, Jason Lewis, Kimberly Ferguson, Chris Walsh and Nick Collins. Other members may have attended later during the hearing. Secretary of HHS, Judy Ann Bigby provided testimony to update the committee on the proposed DDS (Developmental Services) regulations which would limit the use of aversives. Representative Sannicandro and Senator Joyce provided positive testimony on bills which would ban aversives. Rep. Sanchez brought his nephew who attends JRC to the hearing room as he testified in favor of aversives and against the bills. The Arc and several disability organizations all spoke in support of the ban.  To read about behavioral supports and the position of The Arc, US and American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, go here.