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Cattle Prod Use Enforced By Court Order
June 4, 2004

See also: Parents Want Cattle Prod Used on Son (March 9, 2007)

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS -- "Electric prods are designed and manufactured for use on livestock only," warns the website of Hot-Shot, the company that manufactures the Power-Mite cattle prod.

"Any other use is considered product mis-use."

But staff at Bradley Bernstein's group home use the cattle prod on him when he has an outburst. They did it 14 times in the first three months of this year.

They had to.

Even though the practice is opposed by Trinity Services Inc., the company that recently took over operating the group home, staff members are nonetheless required under a court order to use the shock device on the 45-year-old Bernstein, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The use of the "shocker" is part of a 1987 settlement agreement between the Illinois Department of Human Services and Bernstein's parents, Fran and Robert Bernstein. They say the electric jolt, which they describe as being similar to a bee-sting, is the best way to control and calm their son, who has autism and mental retardation, and says just a few words.

The Bernsteins defend the use of the cattle prod to the point that they have taken Trinity to court over its decision in December to stop using the device on their son. Bradley's parents say it has helped him to "live a more normal kind of life", to keep him from hurting himself and others, and to keep him out of state institutions.

"It is the most humane thing we could be doing for Bradley, no matter what anybody says," explained Fran Bernstein, who began using the cattle prod when her son was 14.

Trinity's executive director, Art Dykstra, defends the agency's decision to use other means to calm Bernstein and help him manage his behavior.

"This can't just keep going on," Dykstra told the Tribune. "I am just strongly opposed to it, and I don't think it's appropriate in Bradley's case at all."

Of the 16,900 people with developmental disabilities within the state system, Bernstein is the only one who gets shocked with a cattle prod.

The use of shocks and other "pain-compliance" measures on people with mental disabilities has been strongly criticized for several decades. Some states ban such aversive punishments entirely, putting them in the category of abuse.

"It's akin to torture," said Steven Eidelman, executive director at the ARC of the United States. "If this were happening in wartime to a prisoner, it would be against the Geneva Convention."

Instead, there has been an increasing emphasis on using positive behavior support methods to identify the underlying causes of a behavior, and help people to build more useful skills to get their needs met.

Dykstra said using shocks on Bernstein feels so wrong he has considered going against the court order.

"I think there will come a point in time, where I'll say, 'We're not going to do this. This is nuts,'" he said.

"Shocks used to control autistic son" (Chicago Tribune - free registration required)


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