Recently a video was made public showing eighteen year-old Andre McCollins, being electric shocked while face down and restrained. He was shocked thirty-one times over a seven hour period because he would not take off his coat. Andre was not allowed a break for food, water or use of the bathroom and remained restrained the entire time. In the video, Andre was screaming and in obvious pain from the shocks. This is inhumane treatment any way you look at it.
Andre was a student at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) outside of Boston. This is a school that accepts children that are developmentally disabled which have resulted in serious behavior problems or supposed mental issues. This is the only known place in the United States that uses this type of shock to the skin. Its practices have been under scrutiny for years, legislation has been on the table to ban the shocks and even a United Nations representative has been investigating the JRC.
Andre’s mother visited him three days after the shocks took place and found him in a catatonic state. He was taken to a hospital where he spent almost six weeks recovering. His mother sued JRC for torture and abuse. A lawyer for the JRC said in their defense that Andre’s treatment plan was followed correctly. That’s one way to avoid the issue of what they were doing to Andre. It’s hard to believe that Andre’s treatment plan was to shock him for seven hours to punish him for not taking off his coat.
To understand why the JRC seems to think that this kind of “treatment” is valid, one needs to know how this method was developed. Matthew Israel founded the JRC about forty years ago. He was a fan of BF Skinner, a behavioral psychologist who theorized that if pigeons or rats could be trained to change their habits then so could humans. However, Skinner did not allow punishment, so Israel went off in a different direction with Skinner’s theory.
Israel decided rewards for good behavior and punishments for bad behavior were the way to get kids to stop their aggression or self-destructive behavior. He invented the graduated electronic decelerator (GED), which administers two levels of shock to the skin for two seconds. The kids, some as young as eight years old, wear electrodes attached to their skin around the clock. Israel claims it’s like wearing glasses or a hearing aid. He claims the pain is no worse than a two second bee sting. The question is how many two-second bee stings can a person endure? There doesn’t seem to be any guidelines as to how many shocks are too many.
This practice falls under the term aversion therapy which theorizes that a person will associate the undesirable behavior with the shock so that the person will stop the bad behavior. This is clearly just an attempt to control or prevent a person’s actions by force and pain. The shocks are supposed to stop extreme behavior like self-mutilation, but Andre was shocked for not taking his coat off. It continued not because he was a danger to himself, but for tensing his body and yelling. This is called treatment? Most would call it torture.
The JRC claims that this sort of more intensive treatment is necessary after no improvement is made after an almost year long program of lighter methods. Granted these kids are not the run of the mill problem kids. They are self-abusive and potentially a danger to others. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to cross over the threshold of violating their human rights. Where is the respect for the student’s dignity?
Israel also takes pride in the fact that he will accept any student as many of these kids have been expelled from multiple other places. He will “transform” their behavior eventually, which he claims is better than heavily medicating these kids with psychotropic drugs. Neither drugs with potentially lethal side effects nor electric shocks are workable choices.
He says the shocks have no side effects or long-term damage so they are safe. How can they not have some sort of immediate or long-term results? The shocks are normally administered remotely so imagine walking around not knowing when you are going to get shocked. There must be a constant state of fear at the very least, not to mention the psychological impact of the pain.
A former student did go around in a constant state of fear and it was not just in apprehension of punishment for bad behavior. Apparently, if you are known to exhibit a dangerous behavior, there is another procedure called Behavior Rehearsal Lessons to prevent it. She was put through a process where you sit in a chair, often restrained and are told to do that undesirable behavior, such as hitting yourself. You would then get shocks if you complied, but also get shocked if you wouldn’t. This would continue until the student was motionless for ten minutes. Israel claims this is effective. Doesn’t this remind you of some movie where the bad guys are trying to “break” a good guy?
The bottom line is these practices are barbaric and inhumane. They aren’t used in our prisons and it’s most likely no one would wish this treatment on their own dog. Even worse, state and federal agencies pay about $220,000 per year for one student! It’s not only inhumane, it’s criminal as tax dollars are being used for this torture!
The working principles of the JRC are based on psychiatry. Since psychiatry is not based on medical science but only opinion, it would be best to go back to basics and avoid the psychiatric path altogether. We are not animals that need to be forcibly trained into behaving in an acceptable manner.
Parents need to know there are alternatives to electric shock. For starters, get a thorough medical exam by a competent doctor not associated with psychiatry and find out what is physically wrong that is leading to the mental issues. Get some real truthful scientific answers and decide how to proceed from there.