25 Investigates uncovers years of alleged abuse at Canton home for people with disabilities

Mass. — State records obtained by 25 Investigates reveal years of documented abuse at Judge Rotenberg Center: a Canton school and home for people with severe autism and other developmental disabilities.

In September, 25 Investigates revealed the state Department of Children and Families was placing children with special needs at the Judge Rotenberg Center. A spokesperson for DCF has defended the placement of DCF children at DCF, saying: “No other congregate care programs capable of meeting their needs.”

But child advocates questioned whether the state could ensure the safety of those at-risk kids.

Since then, 25 Investigates has uncovered serious reports of physical abuse by staff members of the school’s group homes in recent years. 25 Investigates requested those records from the state Department of Early Education and Care on Sept. 20.

The reports list some of the victims as children.

The long controversial school also uses electric shock devices to deliver skin shocks to students – in hopes of stopping aggressive and self-injurious behaviors.

The EEC findings do not involve the use of those devices.

Judge Rotenberg Center officials say the school does not currently use electric shock devices on children. Massachusetts courts annually approve the use of the devices for individual students. But advocates for people with developmental disabilities say even witnessing the use of the devices can be traumatizing.

“What about other people, whether they work there or have disabilities?” Leo Sarkissian, executive director of the Arc of Massachusetts, said. “Because even workers might be. There’s this trauma that adjoins any kind of punishment.”

And experts say there is no evidence that the devices work in the long-term – meaning people with severe disabilities may continue to need the devices for years.

“I think it’s a stain on the Commonwealth to be honest,” said Helen Tager-Flusberg, director of the Center for Autism Research Excellence at Boston University. Tager-Flusberg said alternatives include positive reinforcement, and she called for even more research on long-term treatments for self-injuries and aggressive behaviors. “It’s not a treatment,” she said. “It’s in some ways just a form of torture… It’s not resolving the problem. And it’s not as if there aren’t alternative approaches.”

Anchor and Investigative Reporter Kerry Kavanaugh spoke with a former student who says she left that school traumatized. 25 Investigates is referring to the student as K.C. to help protect her identity, as she fears retribution from speaking out. K.C. said both the findings of abuse and the use of electric shock devices are part of a pattern of abusive practices by Judge Rotenberg Center staff. “There are some staff that they get a power trip,” K.C. said. “If they felt a certain way about you that treat you ten times worse.”


The state Department of Early Education and Care, or EEC, licenses the Judge Rotenberg Center and other schools for people with developmental disabilities.

In September, 25 Investigates found Judge Rotenberg Center has had 325 license non-compliances since 2016. 25 Investigates then specifically requested findings of abuse against staff members.

We found at least 10 non-compliance reports documenting abuse by Judge Rotenberg Center staff since 2016.

February 2022: EEC found a staffer physically assaulted a resident “8 different times” during an overnight shift when the resident was “non-compliant and refused to stay in bed and go to sleep.”

The resident ended up needing “medical dental treatment.”

“The resident was not in crisis and was not aggressive,” reads the EEC findings.

According to EEC, video footage showed a staffer striking a resident in the face, head and body with an iPad and iPad charging cord and throwing water on the resident.

“Resident A was afraid and cowering and ducking away from Staff A,” reads the EEC report.

The finding called the abuse “cruel, unusual, severe or corporal punishment, and “unnecessary.”

EEC referred the case to the Norfolk DA and Canton police.

February 2021: EEC found a staffer abused a disabled adult resident by putting pepper and hot sauce on the resident’s hands. The resident flinched in pain when placed in a shower. And an abuse report wasn’t filed with the state for ten days.

December 2020: EEC said a staffer failed to supervise a child who made a serious suicide attempt.

February 2020: Video footage showed staff pushing a resident into a washing machine, pulling the resident into a room by the arms. While staff tried to restrain the resident, a male staffer appeared to punch the resident’s head, leaving a bruise.

February 2019: Video footage backed a resident’s claim of being hit in the chest and stomach by a staffer.

That February 2019 report said: “EEC said the staff member has a background that bears adversely upon his ability to care for children.”

The redacted report didn’t say why.

December 2018: EEC found a staff member used “excessive force” against a resident, grabbing the resident’s upper arm and leaving visible marks. Staff said the resident was repeatedly standing up in front of the TV.

September 2018: EEC said a staffer punched a resident in the face while in a program van – and the staffer failed to step away or swiftly report the incident.

November 2017: A resident left with bruising and lacerations after being brought to a bathroom by a staffer.

Again, the EEC findings said: “the staff member has a background that bears adversely upon his ability to care for children.”

July 2016: Footage showed a staff member slamming resident into wall, placing resident in a headlock and dragging resident into a closet.

August 2016: EEC investigators found a staff member physically abused two residents, striking one and leaving bruising and swelling. Staff took another resident into a restroom and punished the resident.

The records released to 25 Investigates include dates when Judge Rotenberg took corrective actions to address the abuse findings – but EEC redacted the details of the corrective actions.

25 Investigates has asked Norfolk DA Michael Morrissey and Canton police about how often staff members at Judge Rotenberg Center have faced arrest and/or criminal charges.

Norfolk DA spokesperson David Traub said the staffer involved in the February 2022 incident was arrested in Stoughton District Court and charged with multiple counts of assault and battery on a person with intellectual disability.

In 2016, Judge Rotenberg Center fired two men for allegedly beating, whipping and threatening a student. School officials referred the abuse to local authorities, who charged the men with accounts for assault and battery.

In June 2019, the two men admitted to sufficient facts for findings of guilt – otherwise known as a “disagreed plea” in Massachusetts.

Norfolk DA spokesperson David Traub said the judge in that case continued the case without a finding for two years. During that time, the two men were on probation and couldn’t provide care for any person with a disability and had to perform 50 hours of community service.

Traub said prosecutors requested a guilty finding. But he said the judge instead continued the case and pointed to one staffer’s lack of prior criminal history, his lack of other incidents during his 12 years at JRC, his completion of a bachelor’s degree and his role as a father of three young sons.


The Judge Rotenberg Center has repeatedly denied our requests to speak with leaders, or parents. JRC has acknowledged its non-compliances, previously telling 25 Investigates that the most serious issues are “most often self-identified and immediately corrected.”

JRC again denied our request for an interview in response to the specific reports we have since obtained. Spokesperson Casey Sherman declined to provide answers to specific questions 25 Investigates asked, including how the school is ensuring safety of students in its care.

He shared this statement: “JRC takes every instance of alleged abuse and neglect very seriously and acts quickly to ensure the incident is reported to the appropriate agency and that staff members are relieved from student care pending a full investigation. These instances of non-compliance range from simple policy violations to other issues, which are most often self-identified and immediately corrected. During JRC’s most recent licensing study, there were zero instances of non-compliance.” - Judge Rotenberg Center

25 Investigates has reached out by phone and email to multiple families who have publicly defended Judge Rotenberg Center over the years.

Videos uploaded to Judge Rotenberg Center’s YouTube channel feature video testimonies from school employees, students and parents who praise the school for its care and its use of video surveillance at group homes.

“They’re constantly being monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” one parent says. “So, it’s a very comforting feeling.”

Parents of residents say the center is helping people with some of the highest needs: including those who may try to severely harm themselves and others.

“Constant back and forth to psychiatric hospitals because he was out of control, becoming violent towards me and his little brother,” the parent says. “He’s learning now how to control his behaviors more.”


But one former resident shared a different experience – and said she witnessed abuse by staff members.

K.C. said she lived at Judge Rotenberg Center from 1998 to 2002. She said she once witnessed a staff member punching a student who had an outburst.

K.C. said the widespread use of video surveillance at Judge Rotenberg Center’s group homes does not completely protect students: “Staff knows where to do stuff, where they’re not going to get caught.”

She said in her experience, the school’s focus on weaning students off psychotropic medications in favor of their own methodology – which can include restraints or devices – leaves students traumatized and without effective strategies after graduation.

K.C. said she never learned how to manage her own behavior or feelings at Judge Rotenberg Center, leaving her ill-equipped for life outside. She said she entered Judge Rotenberg Center on a too-heavy regiment of medications – but said being weaned off medication completely didn’t help her. She said she struggled for years to obtain an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan – including the right course of medication to manage her symptoms.

K.C. said her parents – afraid that she would end up with no other options – authorized Judge Rotenberg Center’s use of restraints. K.C. said the center had a low bar for when she would get restrained: including for swearing or refusing to comply with directives.

“I say, ‘No.’ Boom, I’m getting restrained,” K.C. said. “If I say, ‘Oh, crap,’ I get restrained.” “Because they said last time you swore, you got aggressive,” she said. K.C. said she did not receive the controversial shock treatments – but she said she witnessed those who did.

“It’s the graduated electronic decelerator, which gives us skin shocks, which I saw some of my fellow housemates on,” she said. “It’s not pleasant. And if you’re not on it, just watching it is traumatizing. Never mind just if you are on it.”

Shocks are administered by trained staffers – but at times, the shocks can be delayed.

Experts have said that calls into question the effectiveness of the shocks for immediately halting undesired behavior.

K.C. said delays can also make it a challenge when it comes to any effort to limit other students from witnessing shocks. She said she once witnessed another student receive shocks on a bus: “Just every little thing they were shocking him for and he was acting like he was dropping dead, having a cardiac arrest. I’m getting heightened and retraumatized and I’m like: ‘You’re hurting. You’re hurting him.’ I just started flipping out.”

K.C. said staff members sitting in the back of the bus tried to console her: “They’re like: ‘They’re helping him.’”

At the time K.C. attended Judge Rotenberg Center, founder Matthew Israel led the school.

In 2011, Israel was forced to resign from his role in order to avoid prosecution.

The Judge Rotenberg Center’s current executive director is Glenda Crookes, who took on leadership of the school following Israel’s resignation.

The abuse findings uncovered by 25 Investigates happened under Crookes’ leadership.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration could soon ban the use of electric shock devices for so-called aversive treatment.

The agency has placed a potential ban on its unified agenda of work it expects to take up. That agenda indicates the FDA could propose regulations banning the use of the devices this month.

And lawmakers on Beacon Hill are again weighing a ban of their own.

This fall, a state court decision said Massachusetts lawmakers wield power to ban the devices.

But people like K.C. – who have waited for lawmakers to take action for years – are not optimistic.

“This bill has been heard so many times and it just gets shuffled around and then it doesn’t get passed,” she said.

JRC has long been fighting a ban on shock treatments. 25 Investigates found Judge Rotenberg Center has spent at least $2.4 million since 2010 on lobbying at the state and federal level.

Download the FREE Boston 25 News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Boston 25 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch Boston 25 News NOW