The Justice Department is investigating a residential school that disability advocates have warned for years utilizes “dehumanizing” methods including electric shock for even minor infractions.

The federal investigation of the Judge Rotenberg Center in Canton, Mass. follows a September 2009 letter signed by more than two dozen advocacy groups which called out the facility’s unorthodox methods for treating behavior problems. The letter was addressed to a slew of federal agencies and Congressional committees.

“Residents of the Judge Rotenberg Center receive painful electric shocks for behaviors as innocuous as stopping work for more than ten seconds, getting out of their seats, interrupting others or whispering,” reads the letter crafted by the National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities and signed by The Arc of the United States and the National Disability Rights Network, among others. “The use of painful and dehumanizing behavioral techniques violates all principles of human rights.”

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The school serves children with everything from autism and other developmental disabilities to severe behavioral and emotional problems.

Despite sharp criticism, many parents who have sent their children to the school are supportive, saying that the Judge Rotenberg Center accepted their children when other institutions would not. Further, they argue that the electric shocks are preferable to sedation methods used at other places.

Some students reportedly wear electrodes on their skin, which can be activated remotely at any time. For its part, school representatives say that students only receive electric shocks when called for by a court-approved plan.

In addition to the Justice Department, the Massachusetts attorney general’s office is also investigating the school. State officials have tried unsuccessfully to close the facility twice before, reports The Boston Globe. To read more click here.

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