Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Disability organizations file DOJ complaint against Judge Rotenberg Center for use of electric shock, aversives

From the Left Brain Right Brain autism blog:

A coalition of 31 disability organizations have filed a complaint against the Judge Rotenberg Center with the United States Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice responded with a letter stating they have opened a “routine investigation”.

A letter from Nancy Weiss informing people of the investigation is below. Ms. Weiss is from the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and the University of Delaware.

Disability advocates have cause for celebration today. In response to the September 30th letter signed by 31 disability organizations, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division has announced that they have initiated an official investigation of the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC); see the Department of Justice letter attached.

I’ve been waiting to receive the official notice before announcing this exciting news for the 31 disability organizations that signed the September 30th letter and for all of the disability advocates who have been fighting for over twenty-five years to put an end to the use of electric shock, other painful and aversive procedures, seclusion, unnecessary restraint, and food deprivation as methods of behavior control. Our September 30th letter was sent to seven government agencies and three human rights organizations (see list of letter’s recipients below and the letter and addendum, attached).

The initial response of the Department of Justice was that they didn’t believe that they could take action because they didn’t believe they had jurisdiction over privately operated facilities (like the Judge Rotenberg Center) since CRIPA, the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act ( applies only to state-run (not state-funded or -licensed) institutions. I suggested to them that they consider jurisdiction under the ADA on the basis that people with disabilities are being treated in ways that are neither legal nor would be tolerated if applied to people who do not have disabilities (see my email to them below). Their letter states that they are pursuing this investigation under Title III of the ADA which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities.

None of the other government or human rights organizations that were recipients of the letter have so far been able or willing to take action – Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights had other priorities; Amnesty International is seeking guidance through their international headquarters in London but, as has been our experience in the past, they have shown little interest. The U.S. Department of Education referred us to their efforts with regard to seclusion and restraint, which, while related and important issues, do not address the concerns about electric shock and other aversive procedures described in the letter. The Office on Disability suggested that advocates should “think about finding a way to connect this issue to regulatory compliance,” though clearly we have pursued this approach with limited success for over twenty-five years.

While it is not possible to say how long the Department of Justice investigation will take (they just chuckled when I asked this) or what the impact of this investigation will be, we know that Department of Justice investigations are customarily thorough and rigorous. I will certainly keep the 31 signing organizations and others who have expressed interest in this effort informed along the way. If you are not sure you are on that list and would like to be kept posted, just send a reply email.

If you have first hand knowledge of JRC/BRI related issues and would like to be interviewed by the Department of Justice investigators, please let me know and I will pass this on to them.

To each of you who has maintained energy for this issue over a long, frustrating and mostly unproductive battle, I am most appreciative of your continued commitment. When you think about how long these abuses have been known and generally ignored, I know you share my sense that we must have fallen down the rabbit hole. We can only keep our fingers crossed that this is the first step in righting a long history of wrongs.

With renewed hope,