Matthew Israel to Retire: Founder of “School of Shock” to retire June 1st, plead guilty to two felonies

By Mike Reynolds for Ability Maine

During the first week of May, several sources confirmed that Matthew Israel, founder of the Behavioral Research Institute, later renamed the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center will retire June 1. The school is the only school in the world that uses electrical shock as a tool used to treat students with a variety of developmental disabilities. Glenda Crookes who serves currently as assistant director will take over as interim director. The school, which is an ardent supporter of “behaviorialism” and claims it takes the “worst of the worst” with  a near-zero expulsion policy,says it does not use psychotropic drugs to control behavior.

Israel started the school in the early seventies as an experiment to see if he could change behavior by applying the theories of B.F. Skinner. Skinner, the famed psychiatrist who Israel studied under at Harvard. theorized that applied behavioral analysis could change difficult or dangerous behaviors and Israel started working with severely disabled individuals. Soon Israel started a school where “aversives” such spanking with a spatula, pinching the feet, and forced inhaling of ammonia were punishments given when a student exhibited an unwanted behavior. Several students died at the school, and the school now uses a device that is strapped to each student, where a two second shock is manually delivered by personnel that only have a high school degree. The school was investigated by numerous media outlets including Mother Jones Magazine, and an investigation with the Department of Justice is ongoing.

Israel, who is 77, and has close family in California has been an outspoken advocate for his school. In the 1980’s and 90’s he often refused to appear for any sort of interview without having dozens of parents at the taping of the interview. At his final testimonial in the Massachusetts Capitol, he called an incident in 2007, where a former student actually made a prank call and got other students shocked, “as bad as September 11th.."

UPDATE:  On May 25th The Boston Globe reported Mr. Israel will be indicted on two felonies. Please see this link for the article.