In the latest installment of this series, we focus on an increasing trend of using Teen Challenge as "alternative sentencing"--and to add insult to injury, the use of "indemnity contracts" by Teen Challenge to prevent lawsuits by survivors who manage to escape.
In a particularly disturbing note, Teen Challenge (among other "Bible-based boot camps") is often used as a form of alternative sentencing--and multiple reports exist of Teen Challenge attempting to get people imprisoned for dropping the program (and in fact going for maximum sentencing for violation of parole). An example of just such a requirementwas found with a minimum of searching on Google--in what is a particularly nasty form of "faith-based coercion".
And apparently the use of Teen Challenge as a form of alternative sentencing is not uncommon. A watchdog group monitoring Teen Challenge has a list of persons literally sentenced to participation in Teen Challenge--including a number of people who were sentenced for sexual offenses who were sentenced to Teen Challenge as a form of alternative sentencing. This is particularly troublesome, seeing as Teen Challenge--and the Assemblies as a whole--seem to have a wee bit of a problem with sexual offenders in general (as noted in yesterday's post). At any rate, essentially forcing people to join the Assemblies as a condition of probation is definitely an increasing trend--and a distressing one, in no small part because people are literally forced to choose between conversion and a criminal record.
Jurisdictions known to use Teen Challenge as a form of alternative sentencing include the states of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Missouri as well as many local and municipal jurisdictions; municipal and county governments reporting internments of offenders include Lebanon, PA, Lansing, MI, and Cumberland County, TN. Sentencing may well depend on the judge in question; there is considerable evidence to suggest Teen Challenge explicitly markets itself as a drug and alcohol rehab center (just look at the Google Ads on the right-hand side for evidence of this; of note, Teen Challenge markets itself in internal literature as a "Christian discipling center", not as a rehab).
In many cases, not only federal (and yes, as we'll get into, federal tax dollars do go to Teen Challenge) but state funding is going directly towards what amounts to a particularly abusive recruitment front of the Assemblies of God. Bristol County, Massachusetts has apparentlyused county property to house a Teen Challenge program used as alternative sentencing--a stunt that has launched a First Amendment lawsuit against the sheriff (who in general seems to be modeling himself after Sheriff Joe Arpaio down in Arizona).
"Faith-based coercion", as far as Teen Challenge goes, isn't just restricted to people entering the criminal court system. Teen Challenge is also pushing into public schools--and pulling stunts like practically doing altar calls in school:
Apparently Northwood students attended an assembly the other day supposedly to address issues of alcohol and substance abuse. I am all for programs aimed at discouraging youth from using these substances. It turns out, however, that this organization, "Teen Challenge" based on my google search (I can't get an answer from the school district) is a faith based Christian program whose centers (based on their web site description) "have founded their programs on the teachings of Jesus Christ. These Biblical truths have physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually unchained the lives of thousands of addicts."I began investigating the origin of Teen Challenge based on comments by my son that one of the speakers stood up and repeatedly pronounced herself a "murderer" because during the time she was using drugs and alcohol she had several abortions and miscarriages. Since when does our school district have the right to allow religious organizations to underhandedly promote their views on reproductive freedom while masquerading as a program on substance abuse.
This was bad enough--but even worse, this was part of a mandatory student assembly whereparents could not opt out their children:
I am outraged that our students were required to attend this program without parental notification and the opportunity to opt out. I am positive that a Pro Choice organization would never have made it through the school screening process, nor would students have been "required" to attend a program that included a personal recovery story about how the individual AVOIDED a life of poverty, welfare, poor job opportunities and limited education because they chose to terminate a pregnancy at age 15.Bottom line is I would like an explanation from the school district as to why they have decided that they can require attendance at a program that is faith based.
It's bad enough that people are forced into it in schools and by the courts. The thing is, like most abusive "faith-based coercion" programs, evidence also suggests it doesn't work.
Teen Challenge has claimed an 83% "cure" rate in its program, but evidence suggests that Teen Challenge has not been subject to a peer-reviewed test of effectiveness in over 33 years (the last study of any kind involving Teen Challenge's effectiveness was in 1975, and effectiveness was based on the rather unreliable method of testing urine for drugs (some drugs can pass out within 24 hours, and some drugs of abuse never show up in urine) and on self-reporting). Even in these studies, only 67% ended up as "clean" in urine tests.
To put it mildly, this is roughly as accurate as, say, relying on medical documents written before the age of antibiotics and safe blood transfusion. There have been no less than two revisions of the DSM (the standard in diagnosis of psychiatric illnesses and injuries, including substance abuse) published after 1975; to put it in perspective, this was so long ago that being gay was still considered a mental illness. The last study of any kind involving Teen Challenge--which is, notably, now only available on Teen Challenge's websites--was essentially done in the age of psychiatric medicine akin to the stage of physical medicine where leeches and OTC draughts of heroin and cocaine were still seen as good medicine.
Needless to say, psychiatry--and the treatment of addiction disorders--has come far, farbeyond those days. Among other things, we know now the chemical basis of addiction; we know that there are genetic risk factors for such things as alcoholism; we know that substance abuse can actually be in many cases an underlying symptom of an existing psychiatric or neurosensory disorder (it is not uncommon for people with chronic depression, PTSD and complex PTSD, and serious organic psychiatric illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, et al to "self-medicate" via substance abuse; it's even been found there is a non-negligible rate of this type of "self-medication" even among folks on the "aspie" end of the autistic spectrum). All of this is now incorporated into substance abuse treatment, from treatment of underlying comorbid conditions to new and effective treatments to "wean" people off of addictive medications; this is not the days where (for instance) treatment for alcoholism consisted of giving the "drunk" cocktails of B-12 and valium.
More recent studies have thrown some doubt on the effectiveness of "faith-based rehab" in general, and Teen Challenge in particular. A recent review of the program for Prison Fellowship Ministries' InnerChange program (entered as part of a successful legal court challenge to the program's use as the sole form of rehab in prisons in Iowa) showed there was no evidence for the claims presented nor of a reduced recidivism rate; some studies have suggested recidivism rates may be no better than with no treatment at all.
No less than the head of an association representing legitimate addiction counselors nationwide gives his doubts even about the 1975 study:
This study suggested that Teen Challenge had a success rate of 86%. But Bill McColl, executive director of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, dismisses both the statistic and the study. He states that the study was done too long ago and conducted with an extraordinarily small sample group. This leads us to believe that this study has almost no statistical validity. I tend to side with his opinion.
Even worse, though--as if being forced into an abusive, ineffective program by the courts wasn't enough--is a real possibility that people forced in may not be able to get legal redress.
The Assemblies takes (yet another) page from Scientology
Coercion doesn't even stop at this level, however. Teen Challenge has hit on a particularly nasty form of coercion that is so far only used by one other coercive religious group (Scientology)--the "indemnity contract".
As a routine, parents admitting kids to Teen Challenge are required to sign indemnity contracts and release forms which technically cause them--and their children--to forfeit the right to sue for damages. Even adults are apparently required to sign indemnification contracts when entering Teen Challenge--not dissimilar to the "Contracts" Scientology forces new recruits to sign which supposedly strip one of all rights to sue for damages. In yet another instance mirroring some of the worst of the abuses in the Sea Orgs in Scientology, it is reportedly not uncommon for family members to have to sue to get adults out (who wish to leave), much less children.
It's worth noting what is exactly in the indemnity agreement. Specifically, the adult agreement includes:
- I understand that the case managers, staff, and volunteers of Teen Challenge of St. Louis are not professional counselors and are not licensed or certified by any state. These people are committed Christians, who will share their honest opinions and advice based on principles of the Bible.. . .
- In consideration for the opportunity to obtain this counseling, I promise that I will not take any legal actions in the future for anything said, done, or omitted by my case manager, Teen Challenge of St. Louis, their agents, or family members during this case management program. I agree to hold Teen Challenge of St. Louis, their agents, and family members harmless for any legal claims of negligence or damage of any sort, which a person could assert, related to the Teen Challenge of St. Louis case management programs.
The agreement for "students" includes:
- I will dedicate myself to the discipleship program until it is recognized by the Teen Challenge staff that I qualify for completion. I realize this is only possible by submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and that I cannot do this in my own strength.. . .
- I understand that Teen Challenge will not be held responsible for any of my personal property left, lost, or stolen while I am in the Teen Challenge program. When leaving Teen Challenge, I understand that all my personal property must be taken with me.
- I release Teen Challenge from all financial or legal responsibilities in case of accident, injury, illness or other misfortune.
- I understand that I will not receive payment for the work I do while in the Teen Challenge program. I also understand that the purpose of this work is to aid in my character development.
In addition, inmates are required to agree to a "Christian Conciliation and Arbitration Agreement" that serves as yet another possible legal method for derailing the possibility of a lawsuit:
The undersigned parties enter into this Agreement as an essential condition of participation in the Teen Challenge program.
The undersigned parties accept the Bible as the inspired word of God. They believe that God desires that they resolve their dispute with one another within the Church and that they be reconciled in their relationships in accordance with the principles stated in 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20.
Accordingly, the undersigned parties hereby agree that, if any dispute or controversy that arises out of or is related to this agreement is not resolved in private meetings between the parties pursuant to Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15, then the dispute or controversy will be settled by biblically based mediation and, if necessary, legally binding arbitration, in accordance with the Rules of Procedure for Christian Conciliation (Rules) of the Association of Christian Conciliation Services (current Rules attached and incorporated by this reference). The undersigned parties agree that these methods shall be the sole remedy for any dispute or controversy between them and, to the full extent permitted by applicable law, expressly waive their right to file a lawsuit in any civil court against one another for such disputes, except to enforce arbitration decision, or to enforce this dispute resolution agreement. Any mediated settlement agreement, or arbitrated decision hereunder shall be final and binding, and fully enforceable according to its terms in any court of competent jurisdiction.
I've noted the scripture-twisting of I Corinthians 6:1-8, Matthew 5:23-24, and Matthew 18:15-20 in part 2 of the series; the legal purpose is to try to force persons who might sue for damages (for, among other things, being forced to convert or being sent back to jail due to such things as being Catholic and not wanting to convert to neopentecostal dominionism) to be forced into arbitration instead. (Some states may legally interpret the above in much the same way as a prenuptial agreement in marriages.)
These seem to be common across Teen Challenge groups, and Minnesota Teen Challenge's teen admissions has a nearly identical indemnity form in its admissions package:
"I/We, ____________________________________, parent(s), guardian(s), or conservator(s) of ___________________________, a minor child born on _____________, hereby agree that he/she can enroll in Minnesota Teen Challenge Academy (MTCA), a 12-month Christian residential rehabilitative program. I/We further agree that I/we relieve MTCA, its Staff, Employees, Students, and Board Members from any responsibility or liability for any damages to him or his property during his residence at MTCA or during any related travel and/or activities. I/We also agree to release, hold harmless, and relinquish all rights to pursue any cause of action whatsoever against MTCA, its Staff, Employees, Students, and Board Members if a student voluntarily leaves MTCA or for any damages incurred during his/her residence."
In addition, the form includes a HIPPA waiver (for medical records), a form for withdrawal of children from public schools (dangerous, based on the documented complete lack of educational content other than religious indoctrination in Teen Challenge curricula), and media release forms.
Minnesota and Missouri aren't alone in this. Similar indemnity agreements are part of the standard enrollment contracts for Teen Challenge facilities in Kentucky, Florida (the subject of part 5 of this series; their admissions form includes a similar release in its admissions form along with sections literally giving custody of minors to Teen Challenge), and others.
There is one group that is presently working on a possible class action lawsuit against Teen Challenge--this may be the one workable shot at getting effective legal relief for survivors.
As if this wasn't enough to turn your stomach...here's a pleasant thought for you. The abuse that I've been writing about for the past seven days...well, your tax dollars are funding this...whether you want them to or not. We'll be covering this in our final installment.