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Civil Rights Charge: NY Still Allows Electric Shock on Kids with Disabilities

January 10, 2007


Electric shocks, noxious sprays, and forced confinement without food were reportedly banned yesterday by the New York State Board of Regents for use against children with disabilities in residential treatment programs. But critics of the ruling say loopholes make the ban meaningless. Beth Haroules is a staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union and has advocated for people with mental disabilities for 12 years.

"Basically the exception they created is so open that they might as well not have the ban. It's window dressing."

In response, the Department of Education says only about 50 kids would ever be subject to these treatments, and that some parents praise them as a method of last resort.

Eva Dech was a resident of similar treatment programs as an adolescent. Currently she's program director for the Westchester Independent Living Center, she calls so-called "aversive treatments" torture and says in her experience, they are not used as a last resort.

"They used it for cursing or any kind of behavior that the staff thought was not within the rules."

No major psychiatric association recommends aversive treatment for therapy.

But Haroules says that's where loophole comes in.

"An individual application can be made to have an aversive behavioral intervention used against them. So, if Johnny breaks a crayon you can spray him in the face with ammonia."

The Boards ruling can be read at: www.regents.nysed.gov/2007Meetings/January2007/0107emscvesida1.htm .

Charles Lane/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY