Questions for Glenda Crookes and Nathan Blenkush from Judge Rotenberg Center Regarding Electroshock Torture

Calls for Accountability Regarding the Use of Electroshock Torture at Judge Rotenberg Center

As organizations around the world continue to contemplate writing position statements against the use of electroshock torture as corporal punishment as used at Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC), we have questions for Glenda Crookes, executive director, and Nathan Blenkush, director of clinical services at JRC.

Content notice: this article contains descriptions of abuse and death. Reader discretion advised.

Judge Rotenberg Center tries to distance itself from the abuses of the past, but many of the same people who previously witnessed, performed research on, professionally presented on, participated in, and defended in court the abuses at JRC remain in leadership roles to this day.

We call on Glenda Crookes and Nathan Blenkush to answer the questions below.

As Association for Behavior Analysis International®, the BACB – Behavior Analyst Certification Board, The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, and American Occupational Therapy Association – AOTA consider position statements, we urge them to ensure these questions are answered.

We urge the BACB to enforce its ethics code and strip of their credentials any behavior analyst complicit with engaging in and defending shock torture. An ethics code that neglects to prevent torture and that empowers people to engage in this type of abuse against disabled people is willfully negligent.

We urge all people in the United States to visit https://StopTheShock.Today and spend 60 seconds using The Arc of the United States’s tool to ask your senators to pass the FDA Amendments Act of 2022.

We ask everyone in the world who cares about the rights, safety, and dignity of disabled people to continue engaging in the efforts to end this practice. One effective way to advocate is to use the hashtag #StopTheShock on social media to create posts and engage with posts others have created.

This issue is fundamentally about respecting rights. JRC as a matter of policy strips people of their rights, and the primary one is the right to be heard.

While it is stark at JRC— people are de-voiced and disempowered by the courts so they can legally be tortured— the impact echoes in every single classroom, therapy center, group home, and day program across the country and broader world.

Disabled people and their loved ones are terrorized by the knowledge that the professional associations and credentialing bodies responsible for the care of disabled people are unwilling to intervene.

In their legal threat against NeuroClastic, JRC’s lawyer made the claim that JRC has never harmed a client. This bold statement reflects a terrifying attitude towards disabled people and an arrogant and reckless disregard for accountability.

The questions below were written by Jeff Newman, autistic social worker and abuse investigator.

Image descriptions: below are ten square images with black backgrounds and white text. You can access a text-based version of these questions with sources by clicking here.

Questions for Glenda Crookes, executive director, and Nathan Blenkush, director of clinical services, Judge Rotenberg Center
You've held senior positions at the Judge Rotenberg Center in an era when people were starved in a "food reinforcement" program that forced people to “earn” their calories, and the Judge Rotenberg Center utilized Behavior Rehearsal Lessons. During these lessons, clients would  be ordered to do a behavior that violated their behavior contract. They were shocked for saying no. They were shocked for doing the behavior. Were these strategies effective treatment? If so, why aren't you doing them now? Did you only cease these practices because regulations were stopping you?
If they were not effective treatments, why did you support them for all those years? 
Glenda: You took the executive director position after Matthew Israel was indicted for destroying evidence and misleading a grand jury in a case of abuse against a resident who was shocked 77 times after a prank caller reported two teens misbehaved earlier in the day. JRC staff forced the teens out of bed in the middle of the night, and one was shocked 77 times and the other 29 times.
Nathan: You've worked as a clinical director at JRC for 16 years, reporting to Israel until his ouster.
Israel accepted a plea agreement that required him to end his relationship with the Judge Rotenberg Center to avoid criminal prosecution. At the same time, the Judge Rotenberg Center board of directors agreed to a deferred prosecution agreement to avoid being charged themselves. 
You were both employed at JRC in 2007 when this incident occurred and took on new responsibilities when Israel agreed to leave in a plea deal in 2011. Was justice served in these charges and agreements?
Around the same time as the deferred prosecution agreement, the Judge Rotenburg Center offered the most substantial concessions to date on its practices- ending Behavior Rehearsal Lessons, the food reinforcement program, and [allegedly] only shocking for self injury and physical aggression.
What role did the board's deferred prosecution agreement have in these concessions? Did JRC attempt to maintain the right to use these procedures?
In your transition from shocking for general behavioral management to [allegedly] only shocking only for self injury and aggression, it seems your regulators objected to how many "precursor" or “antecedent” behaviors were then included in people's plans-- being shocked for standing up, pressurizing the ears, urinary incontinence, or swearing, as examples. 
Many of the behaviors identified as precursor behaviors are indications of sensory or emotional dysregulation and are attempts to self-soothe. Are shocks only administered during life-threatening circumstances, or are individuals being penalized for attempting to self-soothe? What emotional and sensory regulation strategies are first attempted to help clients regulate their sensory and emotional activation?
Was it effective treatment to shock for those types of precursors? Were your regulators wrong?
Matthew Israel publicly presented on the effectiveness of the GED in treating clients with diagnoses like psychosis, epilepsy, motor disinhibition conditions, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. 
Indeed, behavior plans from the Judge Rotenberg Center note punishment for "stating you hear voices." Did you object to this use of the GED?
Can you explain why the GED is effective in treating these conditions? 
If it’s effective, why is the Judge Rotenberg Center not currently using this treatment?
Linda Cornelison was nonspeaking and diagnosed with autism, psychosis, and “unspecified cerebral conditions.” She was on medication for “non-directed [involuntary, unintentional] motor activity.”
On Linda’s behavior plan, making noises and “silly laughing” were treated with aversives like spanking, painful pinches, being force-fed hot sauce, vinegar, and other aversive or painful foods. How many times was  Linda punished for motor symptoms she could not control? 
As Linda was dying from gangrene and a perforated gastric ulcer, she was punished physically at least 56 times, plus multiple ammonia applications, in a four hour span. 
Glenda, you were employed when this happened. What did you do to hold people responsible for the torture of a person who had tried for days to communicate she was ill? What do you do to ensure no one is cruelly tortured for behaviors that result from unintentional motor activity?
The night she died, was Linda Cornelison exercising her “right to effective treatment”?
Israel states that students entering the Judge Rotenburg Center would be weaned off of psychotropic medication to be replaced with aversive and GED electroshock punishment use, and only after these aversives had failed would medication be considered to be reintroduced. Nathan, you have written several research documents on the negative impacts of psychotropic medication. Is Israel’s position your position?
Is the GED more effective in supporting mental health than mental health medications? Israel also stated that Behavioral Counseling was only available to people who were meeting their behavioral contracts. 
Should treatment be considered a reward?
Over decades, the Judge Rotenburg Center presented and argued that the GED was effective in treating a laundry list of diagnoses- Autism, psychosis, intellectual disability, and  mental health conditions- and was the most effective response to an expansive list of behaviors. 
If all those uses are no longer reliable, if you no longer stand by that research and those assertions, why should we view the Judge Rotenberg Center's and Israel's research into use of the GED to treat self injury and aggression any differently than all of these historic practices?

Alternatively, if regulators didn’t stop you, would you still be doing all these things that you previously witnessed, performed research on, professionally presented on, and defended in court?
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One Response

  1. In their legal threat against NeuroClastic, JRC’s lawyer made the claim that JRC has never harmed a client.

    Because killing people is actually more than harming them, obviously. 😇

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