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Student Treated with Electric Shock Devices Set for 1st Interview on Tonight's CBS EVENING NEWS

August 6
2:15 2014
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Student Treated with Electric Shock Devices Set for 1st Interview on Tonight's CBS EVENING NEWS

A former student treated with electric shock devices while at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center, a special needs school near Boston, speaks with CBS News Correspondent Anna Werner in her first television interview. The report will be broadcast tonight, August 5 on the CBS Evening News WITH SCOTT PELLEY (6:30-7:00 PM, ET) on the CBS Television Network.

The Judge Rotenberg Educational Center is the only place in the country approved to use what some have considered controversial shock devices on its teenage and adult patients, including some with autism. Officials at the Center insist that a program of electric shocks can stop people with severe disabilities from injuring themselves or others and keep them off medications.

Jennifer Msumba, who has autism, lived at the facility for seven years. She wore a backpack with a device inside that delivered an electric shock whenever a staffer pressed a button.

"I felt like I was being punished for being born," Msumba tells Werner. "That's what it feels like. Because I was disabled, I was being punished."

In tonight's report, Werner speaks with parents who support the use of a shock device on their son. Werner also interviews the director of the Judge Rotenberg Center, the special needs school that uses the shock devices, which are now under Review by the federal government.

Msumba now lives at a group home in Florida, where her therapy includes playing the piano and positive feedback. She is suing the Judge Rotenberg Center and tells Werner it took two years to process the experience and recover from the "abuse."

While Msumba was at the Judge Rotenberg Center, staffers drew up a list of prohibited behaviors for which she could be shocked, ranging from head-banging to hand movements.

"I would get like five or 10 shocks for just doing one thing," Msumba says. "That was like being underground in Hell."

Officials at the Judge Rotenberg Center say that Msumba did well there and that she sent them positive emails after she left.

The Center's use of electric shock came under scrutiny in 2012 after a video was presented in court showing 17-year-old Andre McCollins being restrained and shocked 31 times. Werner speaks with his mother, Cheryl, who settled a lawsuit with the Judge Rotenberg Center and says her son suffered permanent damage. McCollins is advocating for the shock devices to be banned.

"It doesn't work," McCollins tells Werner. "Shock him out of autism? What is that going to do? Inflicting pain. It's like you're making the injury worse."

The Center says it no longer uses the restraint board in combination with shocks. Glenda Crookes, the Center's director, tells Werner that while the shocks inflict pain, patients are not afraid of the devices.

"When you put that device on them, they're not hurting themselves anymore," Crookes tells Werner. "They're not hurting other people anymore, and their affect, it just changes. No, I don't think that they're afraid of it."

Crookes says the shocks are "few and far between" and that it is "rare" for a patient to actually receive one.

"They know what they get the application for, so it's not a fearful thing," Crookes says.

Officials at the Judge Rotenberg Center point to residents such as 20-year-old Joshua Wood, who has severe autism, as a patient who has benefited from a shock device. Werner speaks to his parents, Sharon and Roger Wood, who say Joshua would go into "severe rages that he could not control" before the shock device was introduced.

"You have to understand the entire journey," Roger tells Werner. "From day one, as a parent, you do everything imaginable-unimaginable-whatever. I mean, sometimes you grasp at straws."

Steve Capus is the Executive Producer of the CBS Evening News WITH SCOTT PELLEY and Executive Editor of CBS News.

Follow the CBS Evening News WITH SCOTT PELLEY on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram and on cbsnews.com.

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