Alarm in prisons at Scientology drug cures aimed at inmates
Officials unable to stop advice sent to inmates
Experts criticise sauna and vitamin therapies
Tuesday November 15, 2005
The Prison Service has warned that activists linked to the Church of Scientology are targeting offenders in British jails with unauthorised anti-drug and education programmes. Narconon, the drug detox and rehab programme developed by Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard, and Criminon, his drugs education and rehab programme, are both being offered to prisoners through correspondence courses. Though officials frown on the programmes, they are unable to stop the practice because they cannot justify tampering with inmates' mail in these circumstances.
Narconcon is also under fire for its drug treatment programmes within the community. The group advocates that cocaine users detox by spending five hours a day in saunas and ingesting large doses of vitamins to cleanse the body of narcotics. But health experts and drug charities have told the Guardian that there is no scientific basis for the programme personally developed by Hubbard.
In an internal memo, Martin Lee, head of the Prison Service's drugs strategy unit says Narconon has been making direct and indirect contacts with prisoners. "An assessment by the drugs strategy unit of the Narconon correspondence course, which I understand is offered to prisoners, concluded that the course did not fulfil the requirements of 'what works' principles nor would it qualify as an accredited or validated programme," he says.
He notes that Narconon offers courses free of charge but adds. "It is important, however, to ensure that any proposed intervention, whether free or not, is compatible with the existing treatment strategy and fit for purpose."
The Prison Service has taken legal advice about the prospect of intercepting inmates mail relating to Criminon but has been told those powers only apply in situations which involving national security, prevention of crime or the maintenance of discipline.
The separate controversy over the charity's detox programme relates to treatments available at its base in St Leonard's on Sea in East Sussex where residents pay £15,000 for an average three to four month stay. Literature for the controversial detox programme says drug residues can remain in the system for years but can be expunged by treatments combining exercise and vitamins with lengthy sessions in the sauna. The organisation's US website says: "Exercise that produces circulation of blood deep into the body followed by long periods of time spent in a dry sauna at low heat, has produced amazing detox results. Even cocaine users who had not used for many months have experienced beneficial detox from cocaine while in the sauna."
But experts have told the Guardian that the programme does not bear scrutiny. Release, the national drugs and legal advice charity said: "We are not aware of any recognised scientific evidence base to support the detoxification techniques described in the Narconon literature we have seen."
Rosie Brocklehurst, chief executive of Addaction, said: "We have concerns about the Narconon centre. We know that cocaine produces strong psychological cravings, treating them in a sauna is ridiculous." Narconon has also faced criticism for its attempts to work in schools. Two education authorities, Trafford in Manchester and Tower Hamlets in east London, confirmed to the Guardian that their schools have been warned not to allow the charity access to classrooms.
Though popular with celebrities including John Travolta and his wife Kelly Preston, Tom Cruise and Kirsty Alley, a Narconon patron, Scientology has a controversial past. In 1984 at the high court Mr Justice Latey said: "Scientology is both immoral and socially obnoxious. It is corrupt, sinister and dangerous. It is corrupt because it is based on lies and deceit."
At the St Leonard's centre, Narconon director Jim Mulligan insisted that critics have an axe to grind. "If you are successful, you will get knocked," he said.
He said the programme deserves and may seek NHS funding, adding: "I wish the people criticising us would talk to our graduates."
Dominique Cook, a fellow director, said she had seen addicts transformed.
A Criminon spokeswoman said they ran a number of courses. "None of them have been inspected by the Prison Service," she said. "Next summer we will have been delivering our courses into UK prisons for 10 consecutive years. We have helped thousands of inmates, according to their own testimonials."