A U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel is currently investigating allegations that individuals treated at the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Massachusetts, suffered torture and abuse in the form of electric shock therapy. Former patients and their families are sharing their testimony, while members of the panel will decide whether the aversive therapy should be banned.
Jennifer Msumba testified before the panel last April. She described the backpack she was forced to wear, which contained the apparatus used to shock her. She also described being restrained, spread-eagle, while shocks were administered.
Staff at the Judge Rotenberg Center do not deny that shock therapy was used. They claim that it was an approved part of Msumba’s treatment plan, and that it is an effective method of behavior modification, and there are parents of former patients who agree.
Roger and Sharon Wood brought their son, Joshua, to the Rotenberg Center as a last resort. His severe rages left them frightened for their safety, and for their son’s future. They credit the Center with helping him to improve greatly, to the point where he is now able to swim, go horseback riding, and most importantly, control his temper.
Roger Wood told CBS News,
“For me, there’s just no contest: the difference between being restrained for hours and hours a day, being helpless, being medicated, not living a life – to having something that interrupts your behavior, redirects you, allows you to focus again on learning and activities.”
The Woods admit that they have not seen Joshua being shocked, but insist that they’ve seen him soon afterward, and that he was “totally fine.”
Glenda Crookes, executive director at Judge Rotenberg Center, said,
“Without the treatment program at JRC, these children and adults would be condemned to lives of pain by self-inflicted mutilation, psychotropic drugs, isolation, restraint, and institutionalization – or even death. When you put that device on them, they’re not hurting themselves anymore, they’re not hurting other people anymore, and their affect, it just changes.”
Many former patients, and staff members, disagree. The Judge Rotenberg Center came under fire when a video of Andre McCollins surfaced on the internet. The teen was restrained and repeatedly shocked throughout the video, and he spent several weeks in the hospital recovering from burns and other trauma after the incident. Gregory Miller, a former employee, testified that students often had to go on a “GED vacation” after sustaining burns from the treatment.
Mike Flammia, attorney for the Judge Rotenberg Center, claims that every use of the shock device was approved by the court system. The shocks were part of a systematic therapy meant to target specific problem behaviors. Former residents of the school dispute this claim, saying they were shocked for “behaviors” such as getting out of their seats or asking to use the bathroom.
Whether or not shock therapy will be banned remains to be seen. In the meantime, many families are watching, and waiting on the verdict.
The investigative report from CBS News can be viewed below. Warning: some disturbing scenes. Comments are open for this report.