UN Accuses Massachusetts Special Education School of Torture

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True




Teachers and administrators at a school in Massachusetts torture students into obedience through electric shocks, the United Nations charges.

And school officials admit that's true. They just don't see why it's a problem.

They claim the alternative would be to drug students into stupors and ship them off to institutions. Hurting them with electricity, they insist, is more humane.

The Judge Rotenberg Center near Boston has come under fire for its use of electric shocks for years. The private school educates and treats students from 3-year-olds to adults. Many of the 250 students have severe emotional, behavioral and psychiatric problems -- including autism-like conditions.
ABC News reports about half the students receive electric shocks on a regular basis.

A device gives a two-second jolt to the skin on an arm or legs. It hurts, Matthew Israel, the doctor who runs the center and developed the treatment, admitted in an interview with ABC News three years ago.

"If it didn't hurt, it wouldn't be effective," he said.

Teachers and administrators resort to the procedure after receiving approval from a court and the student's parents. But a report on the practice by Mental Disability Rights International has brought the attention -- and condemnation -- of the United Nations.

Manfred Nowak, the United Nation's special rapporteur on torture, tells ABC News the school is violating international law prohibiting torture, and he is asking the federal government to investigate the school.

"To be frank, I was shocked when I was reading the report," Nowak tells ABC News.

School officials tell the network trying to equate their discipline measures to something out of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is absurd.

They released a statement to the network saying, "It is just as ridiculous to equate JRC's aversive therapy (which is court approved, on a case-by-case basis) with torture as it is to call a surgeon's knife cutting into flesh an 'assault with a dangerous weapon.' "

In their statement, officials claim shocks are used to control severe behavior such as a student trying to pull out his own teeth, gouge out his eyes or starve himself to death.

"The alternative is to be drugged into insensibility, restrained, secluded and warehoused in a state mental hospital -- in effect, a form of living torture," the statements reads.

Eric Rosenthal, the founder and executive director of Mental Disability Rights International, says that's a rationalization for a barbaric practice. He tells ABC News a wide range of other treatments are available.

"A person with a disability is vulnerable," he tells the network. "A child with a disability, who has to get this day in and day out? The courts have approved it, but did anyone ask the child if they want to be there?"

Related: House Passes Bill to Stop Forcible Discipline in Schools

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.