NCD Urges Elimination of Electric Shock and Other Aversive Punishments

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Washington, DC –The National Council on Disability (NCD), an independent federal agency that advises the President, Congress, and other federal officials and entities on policies and programs affecting Americans with disabilities, submitted comments today supporting amendments to regulations proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services to restrict electric shock and other aversive punishments for students with disabilities.

Under the amendments, 'treatments' causing physical pain – such as "spanking, slapping, hitting or contingent skin shock" would no longer be permitted. There are two public hearings scheduled on the proposals, a July 20 hearing at the Worcester Public Main Library and a July 22 hearing at the John McCormack Building in Boston. Written comments are due Aug. 1.

The issue was sparked by ongoing controversies at the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts -- the only known school in the nation currently using electric shock and other aversive punishments not inflicted on any of the 2.2 million inmates now held in U.S. jails and prisons.  Over its 40-year history, six children have died while in the care of JRC, prompting numerous lawsuits and investigations. 

Points to consider:

  • NCD views aversive punishments an issue of national importance. Residents of JRC come from eighteen states and the District of Columbia. Nearly 70 percent of JRC residents come from New York, 20 percent from Massachusetts. They range from age 3 to adult.
  • Of nearly 230 current JRC residents, approximately 90 students are subjected to aversive punishments. 
  • In May 2011, founder of the school, Matthew Israel agreed to step down from the Center to avoid prison time.
  • The aversive restriction measures used by JRC have been denounced by the United Nations. In 2009, more than 30 advocacy groups signed to a letter to the U.S. Justice Department asking the DOJ to end the shocks. The DOJ is now investigating these and other allegations.

NCD has spokespersons available for interviews.  Full text of NCD's comments to the MA Department of Developmental Services available at: /publications/2011/July182011

Lawrence Carter-Long
Public Affairs Specialist 
Phone: 202-272-2004