MFI Sponsor Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI) proved that a mental disability facility in Massachusetts, the Judge Rotenberg Center, is torturing young people diagnosed with psychiatric and other mental disabilities using extreme and repeated pain from electrical jolts. So what is the response from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, via their Dept. of Mental Health General Counsel Lester Blumberg? Silence. But why?

Photo from Mother Jones investigation of Judge Rotenberg CenterYou know, I take human rights violations in the mental health system in Massachusetts personally. That’s where as a teenage college student back in the 1970’s, I first experienced mental health system abuse, which led to forced psychiatric drug injections, solitary confinement, disempowering labeling, and fraudulent advice from mental health professionals.Then I spent several years working as a community organizer with others who had been hurt and harmed in mental health care in Massachusetts. MFI now has a MindFreedom Massachusetts, and I visited this past Fall. We know that abuse continues there today.

So when Mental Disability Rights International held a rigorous investigation and seriously charged a mental disability facility in Massachusetts with the actual t-word – torture – I sure paid attention.

The Judge Rotenberg Center openly engages in using repeated extreme pain with electrical jolts – sometimes hundreds of jolts – to people diagnosed with psychiatric and other disabilities. Staff even have remote control buttons to activate the pain (see belt of staff shown in Mother Jones investigation photo, upper right).

If you missed MDRI’s news release about their condemnation of the Judge Rotenberg Center, you can find out more by clicking here.

I wondered, “What is the Commonwealth of Massachusetts saying about Judge Rotenberg Center?”

Massachusetts Is Silent

I asked for any comment on the Judge Rotenberg Center by e-mailing to Anna Chinappi, Massachusetts Department of Mental Health Director of Communications and Civic Engagement.

“Civic engagement” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? That value is one reason I became a community organizer instead of an attorney, or an employee of the mental health system. You can guess which choice pays less.

I heard nothing from Ms. Chinappi. So 10 days later I tried again.

Instead of a response from Ms. Chinappi, a “Lester Blumberg” responded on behalf of the Massachusetts Dept. of Mental Health (MA DMH). While Mr. Blumberg did not identify himself, a search via Google shows he’s General Counsel for MA DMH.

Lester Blumberg’s reply was short and terse. He said, “The Department of Mental Health will not be responding…” No comment. Nothing. Silence.

Significantly, he did not give any explanation, such as a court gag order.

You can read the exchange of e-mail BELOW.

In a way Mr. Blumberg’s response is not surprising. How many times in my 34 years of activism have I seen an attorney advise a client in the mental health field to say nothing? To be silent? To not speak to the press or the public or even potential helpers? To have zero “civic engagement”?

I’ve seen attorneys advise mental health clients to be silent over, and over, and over again.

On the other hand, when highly paid skilled attorneys effectively fight hard on behalf of an individual or corporate client, of course you often see them also engage in the court of public opinion, unless they are explicitly prohibited by a judge.

But when it comes to fighting for marginalized, disempowered people such as mental disability clients, the same kind of tough adversarial aggressiveness seems to fizzle away.

If Mr. Blumberg’s silence is because of any explicit court order, he ought to have said so. He didn’t.

Silence at this time can be re-traumatizing to the thousands of people who have suffered harm, humiliation, and suffering at the hands of the mental health care industry. Silence at this time can especially be re-traumatizing to people currently using MA DMH services.

Taxpayers fund mental health systems to help people. The public mental health system is one of the biggest taxpayer items in USA states. Taxpayers, voters and mental health clients need to be far more empowered. Unless there’s a court-ordered silence, then our elected officials can and should reject unethical, overly-timid, over-paid and re-traumatizing advice to stay silent in such circumstances.

Attorneys working for the mental health system ought to be fighting on multiple fronts for people with mental disabilities, not refusing to say anything while torture is going on.

End the silence, or explain it. We have a right to know:

You Can Ask: Why the silence?

If you do one thing, ask Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in a civil way, “Why is your government silent about the Judge Rotenberg Center?”

The Governor web address for contacts is:

You can ask, your own words are best, “Just how bad would torture have to be in Massachusetts for an official there to speak out? Why won’t Massachusetts speak out about the Judge Rotenberg Center torture?”

I wonder, would Massachusetts spokepeople speak out if one of their licensed facilities engaged in systematic waterboarding, sexual abuse, or actual murder? After all, the Judge Rotenberg Center abuse is no secret. Mother Jones published an nvestigation three years ago. 

Then again, the Catholic Church hierarchy maintained silence for many years about abuse by priests.

In Nazi Germany mental health officials maintained silence even as the T4 program began. One of the first groups targeted for mass killing in Nazi Germany were young people diagnosed with mental disabilities. Yes, historically speaking, first they came for us.

When will the silence end?

Unless there’s a very good reason, taxpayers ought to demand that their elected officials, and staff, speak out loudly, clearly, and continuously to stop any and all torture as described by MDRI. Staff who unnecessarily maintain silence ought to be fired. Why should corporate America be the main place people can be easily fired? We taxpayers pay a lot, we ought to be able to have a few good firings, too.

Time for one more action?

You’ll see in the below e-mail exchange that Mr. Blumberg’s e-mail address is Maybe he’s just not responding just to me? Or is there a court-ordered silence? Please ask in a civil way for some response, any response. If it’s ordered by DMH, perhaps it’s time for all ethical staff to quit the Dept. of Mental Health in Massachusetts in protest about this silence?

By the way, elsewhere on the Internet, Mr. Blumberg has no problem speaking up.

According to Mr. Blumberg’s public LinkedIn page, one of the groups he openly endorses and affiliates with is NAMI. A US Senate investigation last year showed that NAMI covered up, even from their own members, that more than half of their income, on average, over the previous three years was from pharmaceutical corporations.

So NAMI has a proven history of staying silent about ethical issues for the wrong reasons, too.

In fact, a Google search today shows that the NAMI web site has zero mention of the word “Rotenberg” at all.



about Judge Rotenberg Center Torture

From: “Blumberg, Lester (DMH)” <>
Date: 28 May 2010 11:51:29 AM PDT
Subject: RE: have you received my e-mail?

Mr. Oaks –

Thank you for your email.  The Department of Mental Health will not be
responding to your request for comments.

Lester Blumberg

Lester Blumberg
Department of Mental Health
25 Staniford St.
Boston, MA  02114
(617) 626-8233
Fax: (617) 626-8242

—– Original Message —–
From: David W. Oaks
To: Chinappi, Anna (DMH) <>
Sent: Thu May 27 14:21:21 2010
Subject: have you received my e-mail?

Dear Ms. Chinappi,

I am checking to see if you successfully received my e-mail 10 days
ago, copied below?

Please let me know, perhaps I have the wrong e-mail address.

Thank you,

David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International

On 17 May 2010, at 10:54 AM, David W. Oaks wrote:

17 May 2010

To:         Anna Chinappi, MA DMH Director of Communications and

From:    David W. Oaks, Director, MindFreedom International

Re:     Position, response re: Judge Rotenberg Center


I direct MindFreedom International, an independent human rights
coalition. While open to the public, most of our members identify as
individuals who have experienced abuse while in mental health care.

One of our sponsor groups, MDRI, has conducted an investigation of
the Judge Rotenberg Center use of pain on clients. You can read
about this here:

Human Rights Group Files “Torture” Charge with UN Against USA Facility

Can you please give me any quotable public response from your
department about the Judge Rotenberg Center? Are you opposed to it?
Do you feel it’s torture? What steps are being taken to shut it down?



David W. Oaks, Executive Director
MindFreedom International
454 Willamette, Suite 216 – POB 11284
Eugene, OR 97440-3484 USA

office phone: 541-345-9106 fax: 480-287-8833
member services toll free in USA: 1-877-MAD-PRID[e] or 1-877-623-7743

Unite for a Nonviolent Revolution in Mental Health.

Join now!

“Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.”
– Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Document Actions