Mother Jones has a long, chilling feature on The Judge Rotenberg Education Center, a private radical behavior-modification school based in Canton, Mass. The school is run by a rogue behaviorist who uses discredited "punishment" techniques -- electroshock -- on children as young as nine to change their personalities. Matthew Israel, the school's $400,000/year executive director, straps homemade, overpowered shock apparatus to children (including severely autistic and retarded kids) and has his staff administer strong shocks for even minor infractions. Some children have been shocked thousands of times a day, and several children have died at the school.
Eight states send troubled children to the school, where "high functioning" kids are "educated" by being sat in front of computers all day, running through automated tutorial programs. Talking, fidgeting, or acting out during this "school" time is punished with shocks. Some kids' shock apparatus misfires, shocking them without any provocation. The staff are instructed to activate the shock apparatus out of sight of the children, so that they can't mentally or physically prepare for it.
The Rotenberg process lacks any kind of scientific basis, and the school uses a 20-year-old film of its "successes" to convince parents to send their children to the program -- however, some of the success stories in the film are still institutionalized at Rotenberg 20 years after their "cure," wheelchair bound and in terrible shape.
Then, in June of 2006, a report produced by the New York State Education Department threatened to destroy the program's carefully cultivated image. A group of investigators, including three psychologists, spent five days at the Rotenberg Center and compiled a 26-page document packed with damning findings.
* Staff shock kids for "nagging, swearing, and failing to maintain a neat appearance" and once threatened to shock a girl who sneezed and then asked for a tissue.
* Some students must "earn" meals by not displaying certain behaviors. Otherwise they are "made to throw a predetermined caloric portion of their food into the garbage."
* When students enter and leave the school each day, "almost all" are wearing some type of restraints, such as handcuffs or leg shackles.
* "Students may be restrained"--on a four-point restraint board or chair--"for extensive periods of time (e.g. hours or intermittently for days)."
* Some students are shocked while strapped to the restraint board.
* A "majority" of employees "serving as classroom teachers" are "not certified teachers."
* Rotenberg's marketing reps bestow presents on prospective families--"e.g. a gift bag for the family, basketball for the student."
* Although the center has described its shock device as "approved" by the fda in its promotional materials, it "has not been approved."
* The facility collects "comprehensive data" on behaviors it seeks to eliminate, but "there was no evidence of the collection of data on replacement or positive behaviors."
* The facility makes no assessment of the "possible collateral effects of punishment such as depression, anxiety, and/or social withdrawal."