Mike Reynolds at Uppity Disability started this the other day. I'm a bit late to the party, but I'd like to chime in, because this is important.
At several institutions for "troubled" youth in the United States (and, I imagine, elsewhere), "aversive therapies" are employed to correct behaviour. The "therapies" include withholding food, isolation, and electric shocks. The behaviours range from self-injurious to "nagging." Many of the children and youth imprisoned at these "schools" are autistic, mentally disabled, abuse victims, or any combination of the above.
The link to Uppity Disability (above) has more details and many more links, because yesterday was "Blogging Against Aversives" day. I don't have the stomach to rehash it all, so check them out if you're not sure what I'm talking about. Odd One Out has an excellent summary of the situation, complete with a list of issues a 2006 noted with the Judge Rotenberg Center (the most well-known "aversive therapies" school). Not Dead Yet includes a rather chilling conversation with one of the founders of the electric shock "therapy."
Let's start with where I stand on this issue: Electroshock as an aversive is outrageous. I'm shocked that it isn't illegal.
Where I work, we have aggressive and self-injurious residents. We have autistic residents. It's illegal for us to even withhold dessert. We're not allowed to defend ourselves from attack, except in strictly non-violent and ministry-approved ways. And I'm not about to divulge specifics, but if we can hack it with the behaviours we get, there is no excuse for anyone to be using electroshock.
There are other ways to deal with problem behaviours, even serious ones. Many of these centres forbid the use of medications. Some of the kids there have behaviours that can be positively altered or even eliminated by very common and effective drugs. Rather than punishing kids for acting out, counselling and actual therapy should be used to get at the roots of a problem. In extreme cases where self-injury is an issue, environment modification can make a person safer.
Now, one might be tempted to dismiss such behaviour as "medieval." An it's certainly true that the infamous Hospital of St. Mary Bethlehem could be compared to the JRC. Yet St. Mary Bethlehem was a post-medieval institution, and the widespread segregation and seclusion of mentally impaired persons seems to be a depressingly modern institution. The (admittedly sparse) literature on the subject locates the mentally impaired person outside the hospital. As far as we can tell, they were not segregated until the early-modern (rennaissance) period.**
What are we doing? Why do we permit this? What is wrong with us, as a society, that we seem to have regressed in our treatment of troubled children? Even the worst criminals in our prisons are not tortured like this. 1,000 years ago, right in the middle of the so-called Dark Ages, children were not treated like this.
If you live in a state with one of these abusive "schools," please write your governor. Sign the petition online. Write your senator. Write your congressman. This is absurd. This is a shame on all of us.
** Tim Stainton. “Medieval Charitable Institutions and Intellectual Impairment.” Journal on Developmental Disabilities. 8 no. 2 (2001).
M. Carlin. “Medieval English hospitals.” The hospital in history. ed. L. Granshaw and R. Porter (London: Routledge, 1989), 21-40.