Second Chance seeks state boost

KRQE News, New Mexico/February 21, 2007
By Michael Herzenberg

Sante Fe -- A controversial inmate drug-rehab program linked to the Scientology religion is hoping the Legislature will provide $3.6 million to expand its services.

Last summer a KRQE News 13 investigation exposed how Second Chance as being based on the teachings of the Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. And while the program claims great success in keeping inmates and addicts from becoming reoffenders when released, there are no scientific studies to back that up, according to critics.

Second Chance has been operating in Albuquerque since September. The program has a $350,000 federal grant, and last year state lawmakers approved $160,000 for it in two low-profile appropriations that never mentioned exactly what the money was for.

More than 50 non-violent offenders currently are in Albuquerque’s old West Side Detention Facility.

The inmates sweat out drug residue in saunas, take vitamin and mineral supplements and have inmates administer massage-like techniques on each other.

Rep. Anna Crook, R-Clovis, is a believer in the program and is pushing the bill awarding it $3.6 million.

“If we can get these individuals back taking care of their family, working, paying taxes rather than this revolving system,” she said.

Critics, however, suggest there are better ways to spend the money.

“I think if you’re going to spend new money on treatment programs, it would make sense to spend it on things we know work,” Dr. William Miller, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of New Mexico, said. “The only study that's been brought forward is one not published in a scientific journal; wouldn't stand up to scientific scrutiny.”

Joy Westrum, a founder of Second Chance, said the program has helped thousands over the years.

“It's got a 10 year track record working with over 5,000 seriously addicted individuals,” Westrum told News 13. “There have been three government studies … by the Mexican government.”

While the program is influenced by the work of L. Ron Hubbard, it is not promoting Scientology, she said.

“Second Chance utilizes a protocol that is based on the discoveries of Mr. Hubbard,” Westrum said. “Second Chance is a completely secular program.”

This program claims near-perfect results going from 70-80 percent of criminals recommitting crimes to less than 10 percent

“We are very much in the process of getting a peer-reviewed outcome study done right now,” Westrum added.

That study is being done by Dr. Paul Guerin, a researcher affiliated with the UNM Institute for Social Research.

“So what does it cost per day for someone to be in jail and prison or a combination of jail and probation as opposed to being in the Second Chance center?” Guerin said.

Guerin, who is working privately for Second Chance, said that while the program's claims of success are not based on ample evidence, Second Chance deserves a chance.

“There's a gap in treatment,” he said. “We need treatment for this kind of population.

“There’s not enough treatment, and here's a program that's will to put forth dollars however they've raised it to put together a program.”

The program gets inmates generally from district court judges. However the Department of Corrections has said Second Chance is “not a good fit for New Mexico “

There also is concern about the danger of administering niacin and vitamins to addicts who may already have liver problems. Second Chance insists it's safe saying no dosage exceeds the recommendation from the Physicians Desk Reference.

The $3.6 million would be a continuing expense for the state.

The bill is still in the legislative committee process.

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