Judge Rotenberg Center – a marker

I have read the news reports concerning the Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC). They fail to convey the full horror of the report by the New York State Education Department (NYSED). the Boston Globe article by Scott Allan probably provides the most balanced report.

Having read through it all I do not know what is more shocking.

  1. JRC using cruel and unnatural punishments on vulnerable young people with neurological and/or psychological problems.
  2. New York (among others) sending their vulnerable young people to be tortured at JRC.
  3. The NYSED inspectors objecting in part because staff at JRC did not have the requisite qualifications to torture vulnerable young people with neurological and/or psychological problems.
  4. The fact that this is an acceptable form of "treatment."
  5. That there are parents who defend the JRC.

I shall return to these points in a more detailed post. For now, I just had to say something.

41 thoughts on “Judge Rotenberg Center – a marker

  1. Ann, who has been on the JRC thread on Kev’s blog, has suggested that they bowed to public pressure.

    If that is the best she can do, she knows that the place is doing it wrong.

    I skimmed the report… I hope to look at it in more detail soon, but what I got from it was that they were not using behavioural principles correctly at all.

    Nasty place.

  2. I have to re-read it; the first go-through got the whole nasty gestalt, and the second time I shall comment upon points that particularly struck me. Right now I’m running at the end of a ten-hour work day on four hours’ sleep, so it’s time to crash. I still assert that the kids who end up there are no different than those we have at our school, and we don’t use adversives.

    Much less so on people who have PTSD before they even get there! ::twitch::


  3. I agree with Not Mercury. They have kids wearing the shock devices while they bathe and shower. I can’t imagine what the culture is like within the walls of that place. I can’t imagine why authorities wouldn’t have shut it down by now.

    Those shock devices they use aren’t even “FDA” approved, they are manufactured by the torturers themselves!

  4. Ms. Clark: Re: the torture within the walls of that place, I remember once reading something by someone who was applying for a job there. After just basically getting in the front door and seeing a few things, she walked out and refused to do the interview.

  5. Re: the videos, they’re basically a bunch of “before” and “after” pictures, in which the “after” pictures are supposed to be less scary somehow, and the “before” pictures display all the “bad behavior”.

    I would not recommend watching them if you have a problem with, for instance, watching people be tied to beds.

    But the video has made it abundantly clear to me that I’m well within the range of people they are showing, and therefore at a younger age could have easily been sent there if anyone had wanted to.

  6. I agree entirely, and it says something about the Ann(w/out-the-e)’s personal sense of professional ethics that such pressure doesn’t have any relevance for her in deciding upon an opinion about what she does in her work. I have challenged her on this on Kev’s blog.

    I think it also shows a remarkable toleration of totalitarianism in education and rehabilitation, where the needs of the client are immediately dismissed as irrelevant. Matthew Israel is no psychologist (in the sense of one who abides by a strict code of ethics which exist for the protection of the client… ), and I could wager that a great proportion of behaviour analysts and consultants would find his regime at the JRC somewhat obnoxious and repulsive.

  7. Excuse my language, but…. shitting Norah!

    I saw the one referred to in the anonymous post.

    It’s as if the staff can’t figure that the kids they’re dealing with don’t behave in those ways with the purpose of pissing people off! Clearly no proper FBA has been done, since the starting points for composing questions to ask would fall out out of the FBA.

    The GED does not address the needs of the kids in those videos. Nothing in those videos actually supports the use of the GED, given that the JRC routinely (as we know now) neglects to conduct its own FBAs or other assessments, as well as overturning IEP recpmmendations from other places.

    The only other place I know of like this (in Finland) is the Aurora hospital in Helsinki, which enjoys a similarly black reputation.

  8. MsC: “They have kids wearing the shock devices while they bathe and shower.”

    That practice is contrary to the regulations governing their use.

    I think that the correct terminology for what happens there is ‘systematic child abuse’.

  9. Thanks for publishing these links – the report is so disturbing to read. It reminds me Abu Ghraib or the Stanford Prison Experiment.

  10. I am re-reading the discussion on Kev’s JRC post and I am struck by that part of the discussion (which seems to have petered out that tries to place the JRC in a broader context of the need to enforce conformity. Parents who feel inadequate to the task are more likely to hand their children over to “experts” and give them a free hand.

    From the children’s point of view this may indeed be comparable to Abu Ghraib.And today I read a review of Tough on Love, an account of the failure of boot camps as “treatment” centres for troubled teens that seems to be part of the same culture as JRC. Unqualified people carrying out measures with no proven validity and kids die. I found another review online that contrasts this with a book about methods that do work with troubled teens. The books are:

    Help at Any Cost: How the Troubled-Teen Industry Cons Parents and Hurts Kids. By Maia Szalavitz. Riverhead Books. 320 pages. $25.95.

    Last Chance in Texas: The Redemption of Criminal Youth. By John Hubner. Random House. 277 pages. $25.95

    They both look tempting. Has anybody read them?

  11. Elaine,

    I think your comparison to the Stanford Prison Experiment is spot on.

    Some people are given power, and the tendency in such a situation (when no safeguards are in place) is for those in power to exercise that power without responsibility or accountability.

    In Matthew Israel’s case, he justifies his ‘work’ by claiming a study background with B. F. Skinner, but – given the contents of the report – I cannot see anything in that report which would even slightly suggest that Matthew Israel actually *learned* anything from Professor Skinner. In fact, what is contained in the report suggests that – if Matthew Israel believes wholeheartedly in what he allows to happen in JRC – he actually holds Skinner and *his* work in contempt. There is nothing practised at JRC that is remotely in line with Skinner’s work at all.

    I am a psychologist myself, and I studied a fair bit of Skinner’s work (at least, the principles and how they are applied and the limit to which behaviourism can be used to *explain* behaviour). I am certain that my friend and colleague Jonathan Semetko (who is currently conducting postgraduate research on the Application of Behavioural Analysis) knows far more about Skinner’s work than do I. From his posts on various blogs, I see a serious ethics issue uppermost in his mind, when it comes to the events that take place inside the JRC.

    My specialist areas are autism and challenging behaviour, and I am currently branching out into applications of educational psychology in the main non-clinical areas of psychological practice as defined by the British Psychological Society (health psychology, occupational psychology, forensic psychology). In the forensic text that I am currently reading, there is a behavioural analysis of punishment and why it is a much less effective way of working against undesired behaviours. Surprises me to see that a place exists where the only thing they do is punish you for an undesired behaviour, where they cannot be bothered to appropriately reward desired behaviour, where they cannot be bothered to appropriately assess both person and situation to find out the meaning of undesired behaviours, and where they wilfully neglect other services stipulated in pupils’ IEPs. It is also amazing that they will only fade from GED after 12 months of *zero-frequency* undesired behaviour… this is practically impossible for anyone there to do (and I refuse to believe that the staff there have such perfect and blameless lives that they never engage in undesired behaviours themselves)… this must be their mechanism for ensuring a good supply of victims and money to support what they do to those victims.

    The way of working at JRC is, from the content of that report, *systematic abuse of children leading to learned helplessness states*. Matthew Israel has turned his back on Skinner and chosen to misapply the work of Martin Seligman instead.

    Educationally and psychologically, that place has no justification for what it does, and it is time the authorities closed it down, and the courts put Israel and his staff in prison.

  12. Thank you all, especially Ballastexistenz and David for all your comments here and on Kev’s blog as well. Because you have articulated so much of what I was thinking I feel less obliged to write about the RTC in detail. It was not something I relished doing anyway.

  13. Cheers, Mike.

    Thanks for the space to write. I have to say… it’s not easy to write about, since it is clear that the staff there are either ‘just following orders’ or truly do not care what they do to the kids in the place. Matthew Israel’s only interest is making money and finding people to let him torture their kids.

    Not a savoury place and writing about it is no savoury task for anyone who has even a modicum of ethical practice about them.

  14. NYS education dept have just shown what pieces of shit they really are.

    I’m officially giving up on America now.

  15. Pingback: ANDREA’S BUZZING ABOUT: » Blog Archive » The Crime of Punishment

  16. According to documents published by JRC, one of the ten “Out of State Placement Committee” is the “Robert Maccarone State Director NYS Division of Probation and Correctional Alternatives”.

    If any student at JRC is under the supervision of this division, the use of aversives becomes an 8th Amendment issue.

  17. Jackie: “If any student at JRC is under the supervision of this division, the use of aversives becomes an 8th Amendment issue. ”


    Nice one… thanks!

  18. I completely agree here, these people have to be stopped, what can I do to help?

    FYI, I’m in the Mass area.

  19. Would be interesting to know where Llahsram Em’s IP resolves to……

  20. JRC was BRI until ’94. The director was and is Matthew Israel, a student and desciple of B.F.Skinner. In ’87 BRI won a court battle against Mass. O.F.C. The judge’s name was Ernest Rotenberg. Since then the JRC legal team has cowed all opponents including state legislators and national advocacy orgs. I cannot find anyone taking the lead on this. Any help would be appreciated.
    Lee Wheeler
    155 Town Farm Rd.
    Ipswich MA 01938

  21. LW….

    One question…

    How can someone who claims to have been a disciple of B. F. Skinner be involved in something which is so at odds with (in fact, diametrically opposed to) Skinner’s work?

    That isn’t a disciple; nor is it a student of. It’s someone who has no respect for his alleged teacher’s work.


  22. I agree, David.

    People who claim the authority of another’s work to justify their deeds are usually suspect. Has Israel published anything of note that made any contribution to behavioural science?

  23. “Has Matthew Israel published anything of note that made any contribution to behavioural science?”

    Actually, Mike… not as I know. There’s a paper or who that have been published in the JRC Journal (but not in any journal of reputation).

    Would be interesting to do a search in the reputable journals (e.g., JADD, Child Psychiatry & Neurology, etc…) So far, the only things I’ve found have been “unpublished manuscripts” or … actually, on examination, there isn’t actually a JRC journal… just that effectivetreatment.org website, where the propaganda is laid out. That is, for definite, not a proper peer-reviewed *anything*.

    So, answer is, Mike… no. Matthew Israel has not published anything which in any way makes a contribution to behavioural science.

  24. Something interesting that I found:

    “Matthew Israel promotes himself as having done his doctoral thesis under B.F. Skinner of Harvard University.”

    Christopher Harrison, the member of the Church of Scientology who wrote this, appears to have a strong philosophical objection to the field of behavioral psychology. Skinner, like Charles Darwin, attracted a lot of opponents who objected to his scientific work. I am proud to have studied under Dr. Skinner. His approach to psychology has enabled JRC to save the lives of hundreds of young people who have been fortunate enough to attend JRC.

    Note the last two sentences of MI’s response: “I am proud to have studied under Dr. Skinner. His approach to psychology has enabled JRC to save the lives of hundreds of young people who have been fortunate enough to attend JRC.”

    There is nothing in the JRC’s approach that looks anything like Skinner’s operant conditioning. If MI was that proud, he’d have kept true to his mentor’s principles, instead of destroying Skinner’s reputation by flagrantly flouting them as he does.

  25. An ex-employee has posted to Kev’s blog on her experience of the JRC… makes for terrifying reading.

    Certainly sounds to me, from what she says, that Matthew Israel is doing anything but applying Skinner’s operant conditioning principles… he’s basically terrorising both staff and students there.

    Looking more and more evil with every minute, that place.

  26. What is the best appoach for helping a person with self injurious behavior which is not responding to any traditional treatments and is likely to be fatal?

  27. Pingback: Left Brain/Right Brain » The world is changing

  28. I was in this program for two years and two months and I don’t feel comfortable talking about the things that they have done to me or other people on a public blog. All I will say is that there is more going on then what the news is even reporting. If you haven’t heard the screams of people you live in close quarters with or the smell of their burning flesh and cries for days on end you can’t really feel the pain of the people who went here and are still there. When people talk about this so-called school they never talk about the higher-functioning students who make up half of the school and what they have to go through. There are many “Normal” students who are subjected to the same torturous methods as the special-needs students it’s almost even worst for them because they are fully aware that they are being tortured. You never hear any one report that all of your civil liberties are stripped as soon as you enter the program. There are cameras everywhere. Your bedroom, bathroom, classroom, transportation etc. JRC also follows a point system in which positive behaviors are rewarded with points and negative behaviors result in a lost of points. Of course depending on your staff every so-called negative behavior is totally subjective. I lost all of my privileges before for saying Jesus Christ because a staff thought that equates to cursing! How foolish is that? What’s even more repulsive is the support that JRC has from many parents. I’ll say this though JRC is a place where parents who gave up on their child send them. A lot of people there would have been better off with some counseling (this is in reference to the higher functioning students). People do not discuss the inappropriate relationships that go on between staff and students or the fact that many older kids/adults who are there for pedophilic behavior are your roommates and classmates and are encouraged to interact with all students even the younger ones! It’s not until my Dad took me out of the program that I found out from a staff that one of my good friends, who was a grown women mind you (23 and I was 12 ), was there because she raped her little brother and sister. That explained every thing because her mother never wanted to see or hear from her for some reason and now I know why. I will not mention any names because you can go on their site and see who I am talking about if you do I don’t want to get sued for slander, but a staff who still works there today had a sexual relationship with a teenage boy there and bore his child. This was in the late 90’s and she still works there today! On a more personal note though, my best friend was there with me at JRC she was sent there for acting out as well. Well let me explain her situation. She was being anally and vaginally raped by her uncle and her only way to release her anger was fighting in school; no one listened to her and her grandmother and mother knew what was going on but did nothing. Now JRC knew that she was being raped by her uncle and did nothing about it. Usually schools are supposed to report to the police department or child protective services when kids are being sexually abused. It’s not like they didn’t have evidence because there were eyewitnesses from other JRC students who went on a home visit with her let alone the physical evidence. This is just one of the many situations where JRC does not do any thing because on average they are receiving $214,000 for each student and that is just more important than the well being of a student. If you have gone to their site you will see that on the outside these students are living in luxury but behind close doors they are suffering. I have said enough. Feel free to email me if you have any questions: finley036@yahoo.com

  29. I am convinced that people who oppose a center that is helping children who are held captive to self abuse are sick, sadistic, ignorant folks. Have you ever lived with a disabled person smashing their head repeatedly into concrete despite years and years of behavioral, medical and educational therapies, along with an army of professionals who fail to help your child? Get a life people. You have NO clue what life is like with a child who is a prisoner to brutal self injury.

  30. I have a child that repeats a phrase , ” No school, daddy’s home closed “. It is believed that the mother
    has somehow coached the child to believe that he isn;t or can’t see his father. The belief is that the mom
    is guilty of parental alienation and wants to keep the child away from his father, The child is about 9 years
    old. The child has autism.

    Would there be a way to validate that the child was coached to learn this from the mother ?

    The family has been through a divorce proceeding and other children in the family suffer from parental
    alienation syndrome. Could you offer an opinion about the possibility of proving this or leading to some
    close approximation that it more than likely is true ? I could discuss other aspects of this case with
    you if you believe you might be able to help. We believe the mother is guilty of emotional abuse in the

    Respectfully Yours,
    Joe Goldberg
    Family Law Litigation Consultant

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