Atheist inmate settles for $1.95 million over 12-step drug rehab

Oct 21, 2014

Photo: Michael Macor, The Chronicle

By Bob Egelko

Barry Hazle was paroled after a one-year prison term for methamphetamine possession in 2007 and was ordered to spend the next 90 days in a residential drug treatment program. When he arrived, officials told him it was a 12-step program, modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous, that required participants to confess their powerlessness and submit to a “higher power” through prayer.

Hazle, a lifelong atheist, had asked for a secular treatment program. He said he was told this was the only state-approved facility in Shasta County, where he lived, but that it wasn’t a stickler for compliance.

“They told me, ‘Anything can be your higher power. Fake it till you make it,’” he recalled.

Hazle refused and was declared in violation of parole and sent back to prison for 100 days. Seven years and two federal court rulings later, he and his lawyers announced a $1.95 million settlement Tuesday of a suit against the state and its contractor, WestCare California, for wrongful incarceration in violation of his religious liberty.

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