The controversial longtime director of a Canton, Massachusetts school that regularly uses skin-shock treatments for children and adults with disabilities has been ordered to leave the school as part of a court settlement.
The case stems from an August 2007 incident where two of the Judge Rotenberg Center’s teenagers were wrongfully administered skin-shock treatment after an individual, posing as a supervisor for the two teenagers in one of the school’s residential homes, told the school’s authorities that the teenagers misbehaved. One of the boys received 77 shocks in a three-hour period. The other received 29 shocks.
Amid a state investigation into the incident, director Matthew Israel allegedly ordered the destruction of video evidence from the incident. In district court on May 25, Israel was convicted of destroying the evidence and misleading the jury. He also received five years of probation.
As part of the settlement, the court must also approve a monitor to prevent similar security lapses. However, the settlement includes no restrictions on the future use of skin-shock treatment.
“Israel was the creator and staunchest defender of this theory of behavior control. We cannot allow another person like Israel to be behind the switch at JRC and continue to subject children to torture,” said Disability Rights International, which did an extensive report on the center in 2010, in a news release. “It is time for this sick practice to end.”
Israel, 77, a Harvard-trained psychologist, founded the center in 1971. Of the center’s 225 children, 97 carry backpacks equipped with a GED, a remote-control device by Israel that allows school authorities to regularly zap the student’s skin on their legs, arms or stomach to discourage bad behavior, according to a recent investigation by The Guardian in London. Many of the students have been at the school for decades and are zapped dozens of times each week.
Israel defends the practice as effective and has vocal support from many of the student’s parents. He also defends the treatment as an alternative to psychotropic drugs and describes the GED as like wearing “glasses or hearing aids.”
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture has called the treatment “torture.” The Justice Department opened an investigation into the school in February 2010 on disability discrimination grounds.
“It’s horrible that children and adults with disabilities are still, in 2011, being tortured through the use of electricity,” Laurie Ahern, president of Disability Rights International, told The Guardian. “We wouldn’t tolerate that in Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.”