Saturday, November 15, 2014

This Article About the JRC Is Very Enlightening, If You Can Stand to Read It

"Prisoners of the Apparatus": The Judge Rotenberg Center, by Quentin Davies of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The article is very long (though very much worth reading in full, if you have the time and concentration for it), so I'm going to excerpt the section at the end that talks about what the best avenues for shutting the place down permanently would be:
Policy Recommendations
The Judge Rotenberg Center's abusive behavior is a civil rights concern, and should be addressed by policy at the federal level. As the New York Psychological Association Task Force said, the use of shock aversives on the students at the Judge Rotenberg Center would be considered corporal punishment and would be illegal if the nondisabled people were treated the same way in a school setting. Regulations that selectively allow abusive punishment for disabled students that are not allowed for nondisabled students is not only a terrible allowance of abuse, but also is a discriminatory action on the part of the United States and Massachusetts governments, regardless of whether we call this "corporal punishment" or "aversive behavioral intervention" (Ahern and Rosenthal 27). Additionally, the lack of actual instruction within the Judge Rotenberg Center, the social isolation, the food deprivation, the use of restraints and seclusion as punishment and for long periods of time mean that preventing the Judge Rotenberg Center from using shock aversives, while it would be a step in the right direction, would not be broad enough to stop the abuse at the Center. The Judge Rotenberg Center (formerly called the Behavior Research Institute) has tortured disabled children and adults for over forty years, and it needs to stop now. 
This policy must be passed at the federal level. The Judge Rotenberg Center has been located in three different states over its history, and there is a real possibility of the JRC moving again if protections were only ensured on a state level (Méndez). Currently, there is some federal policy that is applicable to the Judge Rotenberg Center, but much of that legislation has been weakened by court action. For example, in 1975, Congress passed the "Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act" (DD Act), which states, that "the Federal Government and the States have an obligation to ensure that public funds are provided only to institutional programs, residential programs, and other community programs, including educational programs in which individuals with developmental disabilities participate, that  ... meet minimum standards relating to provision of care that is free of abuse, neglect, sexual and financial exploitation, and violations of legal and human rights that subjects individuals with disabilities to no greater risk of harm than others in the general population ... and prohibition of the use of such restraint and seclusion as a substitute for a habilitation program" (Ahern and Rosenthal 29). However, in the case, Pennhurst State School and Hospital vs. Halderman, where a former Pennhurst resident alleged that the hospital was unsanitary, inhumane, dangerous, and used cruel and unusual punishment, the US Supreme Court ruled that the DD Act did not create any new legal rights or protections and [that] the language of the DD Act was "hortatory not mandatory." That court opinion, written by William Rehnquist, stated that "[t]he Act does no more than express a congressional preference for certain kinds of treatment" (Ahern and Rosenthal 30). Consequently, new legislation that has similar goals but expresses them in a way that is clear about the mandatory nature of the legislation is necessary. 
Although the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has said that "restraint will be used only as safety interventions of last resort, not as treatment interventions" and the US Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration has said that restraint and seclusion are "detrimental to the recovery of persons with mental illnesses" (Ahern and Rosenthal 12), no federal legislation has enforced these goals. Restraints and seclusion are still used in almost every state in the United States, and no federal law limits the use of restraints within schools (Ahern and Rosenthal 28). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that alternatives to aversives should be considered, but does not explicitly prohibit aversives (Ahern and Rosenthal 29). None of these recommendations have protected the students at the Judge Rotenberg Center from the torturous treatment they have experienced. 
Federal law could draw from the state laws of California, Connecticut, Florida, North and South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, and Colorado, all of which have taken steps to ban or limit the use of aversives on disabled children and adults (Cobb 9). A US Court of Appeals found in Bryant vs. New York State Department of Education (2012) that bans on aversive interventions did not violate IDEA as was alleged by the plaintiffs. The decision reads "[w]e conclude that prohibiting one possible method of dealing with disorders in behavior, such as aversive intervention, does not undermine a child's right to an individualized, free and appropriate public education, and that New York's law represents the State's considered judgment regarding the education and safety of its children that is consistent with federal education policy and the United States Constitution" (Bryant 2). Federal law prohibiting aversive interventions would provide protection throughout the US for disabled children and adults subjected to aversive techniques, including the students of the Judge Rotenberg Center.
That was a lot of densely written text, so I will attempt to paraphrase: To close the Judge Rotenberg Center, we need legislation that is 1) federal, not state; 2) comprehensive in what types of abuses it prevents (i.e., not narrowly focused on the skin shock devices); and 3) unmistakably binding and mandatory.

It needs to be those things because the JRC's own history shows that it can survive measures that do not meet all three of those criteria. If you outlaw what they do on a state level, they move. If you call attention to the barbarity of one particular method of punishment, they switch to others. If you say, "This is not a school and we will not give you a license to operate it," they re-incorporate, changing their paperwork but not their methods. If you sue them on the grounds that they violate an existing federal law (like, say, the DD Act), a court might well rule that the law is not absolute. And, finally, if you threaten to ban the device they use to administer the infamous skin shocks, on the grounds that it's not safe, they will stop using it -- but only on new students. Students who have been living there since before 2011 will continue to be shocked as before. 

It needs to be torn out, root and stem.

Carthago delenda est.

1 comment:

Michael Rosenfeld said...

Interesting, would you interested in talking with me about hosting a broadcast based on biological finds in the field of Autism?