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Sunday, January 25, 2009
Scientology Base Denied by Officials
By Jeff Proctor
Copyright © 2009 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
The Second Chance drug rehab program was pitched to lawmakers and the judiciary as the missing link in a broken system that recycled non-violent drug offenders between jails, prisons and the streets.
The past year, it has struggled through money problems and accusations that it is housing ineligible inmates. On Saturday, faced with a city-delivered Jan. 31 deadline to vacate, Second Chance officials moved the last of its inmates out. But throughout the program's two plus years of operation, an underlying cause of concern has been its close ties to Scientology.
Since it opened in October 2006, Second Chance officials have said the program has its roots in "secular discoveries" made by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
They have insisted that the program is not based in Scientology. Some officials are Scientologists.
Former and current Second Chance employees tell a different story. They say "everything that happens there is based in Scientology" and offer the following to back up their claim:
•Inmates and employees are put through "courses" and "ethics training" that are straight out of the Scientology playbook.
•Scientology-related entities have played a major role in operations at Second Chance.
•Second Chance has received the vast majority of its money from wealthy Scientologist donors.
•And the program itself, according to the employees, is virtually the same as Narconon, a drug-rehabilitation program started by Scientologists, and Criminon, a criminal justice program run by Scientologists that is used in prisons. Both of those programs are based on Hubbard's teachings and were classified by the IRS in a 1993 court case as "Scientology-related."
Second Chance President Joy Westrum and her husband, Rick Pendery, who is also a Second Chance administrator, have said they are Scientologists.
Pendery has served in official capacities for Criminon and as the national executive director for Narconon.
The couple have declined Journal interviews, but Westrum has responded to some e-mailed questions.
"While it is licensed by Criminon and combines elements of Mr. Hubbard's secular materials utilized by both Narconon and Criminon, Second Chance delivers a unique service geared toward inmates with drug and alcohol problems," Westrum wrote.
Mayor Martin Chávez ordered Second Chance out of its building because it violated its lease by housing violent offenders and making unauthorized changes to the building. It was moving out Saturday.
While the mayor says the program's ties to Scientology were not the reasons for his decision, he believes Second Chance officials have misled city and state officials about the extent of the program's ties to the religion.
"This program has been based on misrepresentation and deceit, and, frankly, I can't see how that would be the basis for a good recovery program," Chávez said. "It was always represented to us that this program was totally secular, but that some of it was based on L. Ron Hubbard's teachings ...
"If in fact what they were doing out there was teaching people directly out of L. Ron Hubbard's books, well, that just adds fuel to the fire."
According to the Church of Scientology's Web site, it is the only major religion founded during the 20th century. It is characterized by a belief in the power of a person's spirit to clear itself of past painful experiences through self-knowledge and spiritual fulfillment.
Second Chance uses manuals that bear Hubbard's name, and courses for inmates include extended periods of time in a sauna and heavy doses of vitamins, including niacin. Narconon and Second Chance use identical versions of the sauna and vitamin course known as the "Purification Rundown," one employee said. The "purification rundown" is a religious ritual in Scientology, the current employee said.
Westrum wrote that: "Mr. Hubbard's discoveries are of such a fundamental nature that they also have application in secular fields. One of those fields is drug rehabilitation."
Although similar to Narconon and Criminon, she wrote, Second Chance is a completely separate operation that she said is not Scientology-related.
The current employee also pointed to manuals used at Second Chance to "train" employees and inmates. They include "The Way to Happiness" and "Communication Course," both of which bear Hubbard's name.
Westrum agreed that Second Chance is based on Hubbard's teachings.
"These include the life skills courses, sauna detoxification, and personal integrity components that comprise the Second Chance Program," she wrote.
" 'The Way to Happiness' is a nonreligious moral code written by L. Ron Hubbard and based wholly on common sense."
Some inmates have said that Second Chance turned their lives around. Inmates chosen by Westrum for interviews — which she required always be done in her presence — have said they are now living drug-free lives. Many have gone on to jobs with the program.
Other inmates have complained about the "way the program is managed." One inmate wrote the Journal in November, saying he and others had voiced concerns to Second Chance officials about missing commissary and personal items and that those "inquiries and pleas did not seem to be given serious consideration."
Several employees have said that Second Chance is merely a "front group" for Scientology and that its operators have mismanaged the center since it opened.
Claims against church
Critics including judges and governments have called Scientology a money-driven cult.
Critics also say that, despite being organized under separate corporate umbrellas, Narconon, ABLE, Criminon, the Church of Spiritual Technology and other enterprises are, essentially, Scientology front groups. All of those groups and several others are among those the IRS labeled Scientology-related.
Several high-profile celebrities, including Tom Cruise and John Travolta, are Scientologists. Cruise, in particular, has made headlines in recent years by espousing Scientology views such as the religion's distaste for psychiatry.
Lawmakers from around the city and state have had reservations about the connection between Second Chances and Scientology, which they expressed with a lack of funding. And judges, particularly in Bernalillo County, have been skeptical about Second Chance's methods and where the center has gotten its funding.
"If private money is coming in, who are you going to be beholden to?" state District Judge Albert S. "Pat" Murdoch asked Second Chance officials in August 2006. The judge was referring to the fact, confirmed recently by Westrum, that most of Second Chance's money has come from Scientologist donors. It is unclear how much money has come from donors because Westrum and Pendery have repeatedly refused to disclose budgets and other financial information about the program.
The program has received nearly $1 million in state and county funds and about $350,000 in federal money.
One private donor is Randy Suggs, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Scientologist businessman and part-owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks major league baseball team.
Suggs has given millions of dollars to Westrum and Pendery, according to several sources close to the program. When reached by telephone, Suggs said he had "nothing at all to say" about Second Chance.
Westrum and Pendery have poured their own money into Second Chance, too, former and current employees and former inmates have claimed.
A University of New Mexico study on Second Chance questioned the program's methods. The study pointed out that Narconon and Criminon have inflated their success rates.
A different study of a Second Chance pilot program in Mexico, prepared by a Dr. Alfonso Paredes, who is reported to have studied Scientology, claimed a recidivism rate for those who completed the program of less than 10 percent. Preliminary numbers in the UNM study showed recidivism rates for the Albuquerque version of Second Chance at more than 30 percent.