A California man is free and may be due compensation after being unlawfully returned to jail. His violation? He objected to a state-mandated 12-step program conducted with a clear religious prerequisite. Problem, he’s an atheist. Fortunately, there may be some relief in sight:
HuffPo — In a move that could have wider implications, the appeals court also ordered a Sacramento district judge to consider preventing state officials from requiring parolees attend rehabilitation programs that are focused on God or a “higher power.”
Hazle was serving time for methamphetamine possession in 2007 when, as a condition of his parole, he was required to participate in a 12-step program that recognizes a higher power. Hazle, a life-long atheist and member of several secular humanist groups, informed his parole officer that he did not want to participate in the program and would prefer a secular-based program.
According to court documents, the parole officer informed Hazle the state offered no secular treatment alternatives. When Hazle entered the program but continued to object, he was arrested for violating his parole and returned to a state prison for an additional 100 days.
Any program that gets someone out of jail has at least some good intent. But the low road is paved with same.
Years ago a south-Austin friend told me a messed up story. Cops showed up at her home one night, allegedly in response to a noise complaint. It was probably another house that had made the racket — she was retired, widowed, and home alone watching TV. But they claimed they saw a bong or smelled pot, or for whatever reason they muscled in, and ended up arresting and eventually citing her for minor possession of drug paraphernalia after turning her home upside down looking for anything they could find (These particular assholes even tried to include a charge, immediately dropped, for some bullshit they called “non-violent resisting arrest,” meaning she politely questioned if they had probable cause and denied them permission to enter).
Off she went into the legal system, where she got a deal, charges reduced or dropped, I can’t remember which, and all she had to do was pay a fine and pay for the privilege of attending a class on the evils of drugs.
It took months and more than a thousand dollars in fines, fees, and lawyers just to get it all scheduled and approved. When she showed up there was a class alright, but she was the only woman in a class full of men and the subject was anger management: a scheduling snafu of some kind had put her in Wife Beaters 101. The lady had a great sense of humor, she laughed, describing to me how these guys would flirt with her on breaks. One or two classmates even asked her out! She would shoot them down with, “Ah, dude, rumor has it you’re a wife beater.”
Her parole officer or lawyer or whatever told her just to buck up and bear it, it was only for a few days, and that would be that. Or she could file some complicated forms, go before a judge, try to reschedule, take the chance that another DA or judge would decide to make things harder on her, and probably pay the lawyer and the city more money for arranging all that. She finished taking the wife beater class.
The point is defendants and certainly parolees are usually desperate, no one wants to go to jail, so if the program is a scam or just a dumb waste of money, they’re easy prey. I don’t know if anything like that happened here, but it’s good to see this guy stand up for his beliefs and better yet to see those beliefs upheld.