One Step Forward, Twelve Steps Back

Barry A. Hazle Jr. was in prison for drug possession until February of 2007 when he was paroled.

Part of his parole included mandatory attendance at a drug treatment program.

That program involved the 12-Step method used most commonly by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Hazle wanted no part of that, so he asked to be reassigned to a secular treatment program. Three days later, he “was called out of a program class and arrested for violating parole… He was sent back to prison for four months.”

He is now suing California corrections officials for forcing him to attend these religious meetings:

The 12-step program required “acknowledgment of the existence of a supernatural God, … deference to a monotheistic ‘higher power,’ and participation in prayer,” the suit alleges.

Hazle says he asked to be reassigned to a secular recovery program and finally delivered a written appeal to his parole officer, Mitch Crofoot. But, he says, Crofoot told him “all of the programs in Northern California are 12-step programs.”

Three days after Crofoot received the appeal, Hazle was called out of a program class and arrested for violating parole, the suit alleges. He was sent back to prison for four months.

He “was jailed for standing up for his constitutional rights, plain and simple,” said Hazle’s lawyer, John Heller, of San Francisco.

Hazle is right and this should be a quick victory. The 9th Circuit Court declared this last year:

“… requiring a parolee to attend religion-based treatment programs violates the First Amendment… While we in no way denigrate the fine work of (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous), attendance in their programs may not be coerced by the state.”

There are many secular alternatives to the 12-Step Method that don’t require submission to a higher power. It’s surprising that California wouldn’t offer any other option.

  • Jesse

    The fact that an atheist has to fight this battle when so clearly within his rights to ask for secular treatment is absolutely ridiculous. This country has real problems.

  • Richard Wade

    I think the problem is brand recognition. That, and the built-in bias of judges who grew up in a heavily theist society. The 12-step programs have been around for generations while the secular ones are relatively new on the scene. Alcohol and drug related cases are innumerable, and the judges have to run them through their courts like a factory on fast track. They tend to send the defendants to court-referred programs with which they are familiar. The defendants usually end up back in court with repeat offenses, but the judges are under pressure to find anything that will keep them out of the overcrowded jails and prisons.

    I was always uncomfortable with the court-required 12-step programs when years ago I counseled alcoholics and drug addicts, but back then there was very little alternative. I’m glad there are more choices and that the courts will have to be more open to trying them.

  • http://brentcliffe.blogspot.com Alex

    What’s interesting is the extent to which the whole treatment industry has been co-opted by the 12 step philosophy when there does not seem to be even the most basic research confirming that it works.

  • http://failingtheinsidertest.blogspot.com/ Jeffrey

    Christine Wicker gave the opposite opinion in “The Fall of the Evangelical Nation.” According to her at least, leaders often say things like “See this doorknob? This doorknob could be your god/higher power.”

    It’s her opinion that AA is undermining traditional religion by giving an alternative to a god recognizable as part of a real belief system.

  • Gabriel

    Ther is an assumption that he is telling the truth and that he was arrested because he asked to be assigned to a non-religous program. I was a parole officer here in Texas for over 9 years. One of the things I ran into is that many people on parole lie or fail to tell the whole truth. It is possible that he was arrested for something else. He could have had a postive UA for drug use, or even multiple positives. He could have failed to keep a job, pay his fees, missing appointments or he could have been arrested for a new crime, made bail and then rearrested because being arrested for a new crime is a violation of parole. We need to wait and find out why he was actually arrested. If he is telling the truth then he will win his suit. It just seems strange that he would be arrested while attending class. It would seem that he would have to refuse to attend class and then actually not attend the class for a long time. I am suspicious of this story. I know that California is facing a crisis with its prison population and they are going out of their way to not return parolees to prison.

  • http://non-theist.com Josh Nankivel

    Lots of strange things coming out of California lately.

  • Rat Bastard

    Honestly, I have to wonder what the guy’s religious affilitation really is. Atheist presence is so small in prison that I am surprised by his presence there to start with, for an alcohol(?) related problem. On that basis, I doubt his atheism. And, yes, based on my experience in the US Navy, there’s a lot of lying ess.o.bees in the world. And not all of them went to the brig.

  • PrimeNumbers

    Divorcing the specific from the general case, these 12 step programmes are bad in that there is no evidence for their efficacy. Their religious nature should indeed rule them out of any compulsory attendance.

  • http://www.fabulouslyinthecity.com Chris (in Columbus)

    Honestly he should have just gone. I’m not involved with the program, but the purpose of admitting a higher power is to say that your struggle with addiction can not be fixed by yourself alone. It doesn’t require Jesus or Buddha or Allah, it just requires that you admit a higher power. My mother was involved with the program, and she used to say that members would say “your higher power could be a door knob. As long as it’s something.”

    Maybe his higher power could be his parents, friends, family? Maybe an inspirational author or leader?

    This just seems ridiculous.

  • Gabriel

    Once again I am commenting from my time as a parole officer. I never liked sending people to these programs. I don’t think they work. From the research I did while I was on the job they are no better than stoping on your own. AA and NA are both secrative and don’t want people studying them. What studies have been done show something like a 4% success rate. That is what I remember anyway. That is no better than chance. One of the reasons I left the profession is my strong disagrement with current drug laws and policies. I still doubt this guys story though. It just doesn’t sound right.

  • August

    “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience”

    12-Step Tradition #2; sounds pretty religious to me; A loving “Doorknob” gets people thrown in the looney-bin!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X