Imagine being imprisoned on drug-related charges and then finally being paroled as long you attend 12-Step meetings, otherwise your parole will be revoked and you will be sent back to prison to serve out your term, plus an additional 100 days. That's exactly what happened to Barry A. Hazle in California.
Hazle, an atheist, in February 2007, was “forced as a condition of parole to participate in a residential drug treatment program that required him to acknowledge a higher power.” Because of his beliefs, Hazle refused to participate in the 12-step program. As a result, his parole was revoked, and he spent an additional 100 days behind bars. Hazle sued California state officials, his parole officer, and the private company that contracted with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to provide drug treatment programs for parolees with drug-related convictions.
When Hazle’s case went to trial, the district court judge ruled that Hazle’s Constitutional rights had indeed been violated by the revocation of his parole and his resulting imprisonment for 100 additional days. Nevertheless, the jury awarded no damages for the violation of Hazle’s rights. This week, however, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, as a matter of law, the jury was required to award Hazle damages for the violation of his Constitutional rights and that Hazle is entitled to a new trial to determine required damages. Therefore, the original decision was reversed and remanded because of of Hazle's objection to participate in programs contrary to his personal beliefs.
The recovery center that was subcontracted “uses a 12-step recovery program, developed by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, that includes references to ‘God’ and to a higher power.” Court documents explained how the court would use the phrase “12-step program” in the rest of the court’s opinion. The court stated: “Hereinafter, a 12-step program will always refer to a religion-based treatment program.”
This ruling makes it clear that no court has the authority to mandate religious oriented programs for people as a requirement of their parole. Doing so, clearly, is unconstitutional. What does this mean for the rest of the recovery community?
"SMART Recovery believes that individuals seeking recovery have the highest chance of success when they choose their own recovery pathways. Therefore we regard the decision of the 9th Circuit in Hazle vs. Crofoot, which supports choice in recovery, as a significant step forward," states attorney Claire Johnson Saenz, SMART Recovery board member and member of its Court Outreach Team.
According to Shari Allwood, executive director of SMART Recovery, "We do have online meetings. There are over 30 online meetings that provide verifications for those who are court ordered." She also added, however, "those meetings online do have a 35-person attendance cap."
SMART Recovery is an excellent alternative to 12-step meetings because it is based on accepted and proven psychological concepts and cognitive behavioral therapy. As one volunteer facilitator puts it: "SMART doesn't tell you what to think, it teaches you how to think and it works regardless of what other [religious] beliefs you hold." For information on additional secular programs, visit: www.smartrecovery.org/linkpage.htm
For more information on court cases and mandated meeting attendance, visit: www.smartrecovery.org/courts/court-mandated-attendance.htm
For information on South Florida meetings, see: www.smartrecoverysouthflorida.com/Weekly_Meetings.html