Prisons

How Scientology Recruits Inside Florida Prisons

Criminon says it's a secular program to rehabilitate inmates, but critics say it's a recruiting pitch for Scientology.

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Part of Criminon's 2017 application to the Florida Department of Corrections // Reason

An organization connected to the Church of Scientology has run seminars in more than a dozen Florida correctional facilities over the past several years, public records obtained by Reason show.

The Florida Times-Union first reported in December that officials at Florida's Everglades Correctional Institution had greenlit a course offered by Criminon, a group that offers "betterment" courses to inmates based on the teachings of sci-fi author and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

In December, Criminon put out a press release celebrating the graduation of two groups of inmates in Everglades Correctional Institution and Manatee County Correctional Institution from its course.

Criminon submitted an application to the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC), obtained by Reason through a public records request, in March of 2017 to continue running seminars in Florida correctional facilities. In its application, Criminon says it has run 42 seminars in 16 different Florida prisons, jails, halfway houses, and juvenile detention centers since 2011.

"We are dedicated to criminal rehabilitation and reintegration through our education curricula for offenders," Criminon president Brian Fowler wrote to the Florida DOC. "To accomplish our aims, we use the secular works of author and humanitarian, L. Ron Hubbard."

The main text of the Criminon seminars is Hubbard's book, The Way to Happiness, which outlines 21 principles or precepts. According to the application, the courses in its program cover "such subjects as how to study, how to effectively communicate, and how to identify antisocial people."

"The Criminon program is based on the fundamental assumption that the root causes of criminal behavior are lack of self-respect and self-esteem," the application reads.

While improving inmates' study habits and raising their self-esteem are rather unobjectionable goals, Criminon programming has been criticized and removed from other state prison systems because of its link to the Church of Scientology.

Numerous media investigations, ex-Scientologists-turned-whistleblowers, and documentaries have described Scientology as abusive, cult-like, and less a church than a business, and accused it of soaking its members for money and ruthlessly suppressing dissent within its ranks.

Scientology also rejects modern psychiatry, a theme which has also appeared in Criminon materials, a 2005 Los Angeles Times story found.

"If [inmates] are on psychiatric drugs, encourage them to get off. Psychiatrists are heavily into the prison system," Criminon training materials from a California prison obtained by the L.A. Times read. "Most jails and prisons have a staff psychiatrist that goes in daily and gives dosages of various and sundry mind-altering drugs to the inmates. Most of the time this is a ploy to keep the inmates sedated so that they don't cause trouble."

According to the Florida Times-Union and the Miami New-Times, Criminon has been active in Florida prisons since at least 2005, when the Florida legislature appropriated $500,000 for a "Criminon offender program." (The funding was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.)

The Florida Department of Corrections approved Criminon's application to continue running Way to Happiness seminars. However, it determined it would be an elective course.

"Based on a review of your application submission, we have determined your program would be categorized as an elective program," Kerensa Lockwood, assistant chief at the Florida DOC's Bureau of Applied Science, Research, and Policy wrote in March of 2017. "A review of The Way to Happiness program concluded that there is not sufficient evidence that the program meets a criminogenic need."

The Church of Scientology has been an advocate for criminal justice reforms. It endorsed the recently passed FIRST STEP Act. It has also lobbied Congress on criminal justice issues in the past. A lobbyist for the Church of Scientology, who in addition works on criminal justice reform, told The Daily Beast that he also informally lobbied for Criminon.

However, former high-ranking Scientologists say the group's main interest in criminal justice reform is using expanded rehabilitative programming as a recruiting tool.

"Criminon is just another front group for Scientology," actress Leah Remini, a former Scientologist who is now an outspoken critic of the organization, told The Daily Beast. "This is just a play for Scientology to get the government to pay for its Scientology technology with its Criminon program."

Criminon International and the Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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54 responses to “How Scientology Recruits Inside Florida Prisons

  1. If Scientology is trying to get prisoners, there is clearly a manpower and financial problem within the Cult of Scientology. The Cult of Scientology used to be fine with few rich members (Tom Cruise etc) to fund the few Useful Idiots to do the work.

    Or they are looking for thugs to do the dirty work that normal cult followers wont do anymore.

    Let them be, so they can all drink their Kool-Aid and die. End tax free status for all religion though.

  2. Criminon says it’s a secular program to rehabilitate inmates, but critics say it’s a recruiting pitch for Scientology.

    So?

    1. Scientology enslaves people. Since they are a “church”, they can get you to work your arse off for them, for a can of dogfood per day. If McDonalds or any other private employer did that to you, they’d be busted out the wazzoo, for min-wage violations etc. THAT is why it is objectionable that the State helps them to recruit!

      1. Anyone dumb enough to fall for the pitch deserves to be treated that way.

        1. What about young people who are born enslaved to this cult? They never learn of anything better, unless someone springs them free somehow… And deprograms them…

          Anyway, I want to found the “Church” of the Holy Hamburger Flippers, and make a killing, paying my employees a can of dogfood per day!

          WHY does Scientology get a tax exemption, and the “Church of the Holy Hamburger Flippers” would clearly NOT?

          1. What about young people who are born enslaved to this cult?

            Whatabout Christianity? Whatabout Judaism? Whatabout Hinduism? Whatabout Jehovah’s Witnessism? Whatabout Democrat? Whatabout Republican?

            1. I single out Scientology because they are especially abusive, basically. Look up (Google) “Scientology slave” and see 7,490 hits. Look up “GreenPeace slave” and get 94 hits.

              That amount of simple research taps into the “wisdom of the crowds”, and tells you a LOT.

              Repeat the “Google” experiment for “Hindu slave”, “Democrat slave”, etc., and see what you will learn!!!

              1. About 7,680 results for “Hindu Slave” is kinda scary, truth be told!!!

                “Democrat slave” = About 10,200…

                Whoa, this is more scary than I had thought!

                “Mormon slave” = About 696 …

                We’d really kinda need to correct this for per-capita. There’s a TON more Mormons that Scientologists… I think “Scientology slavery”, when corrected for per-capita, is a MUCH bigger problem than the rest!!!

      2. Since they are a “church”, they can get you to work your arse off for them, for a can of dogfood per day.

        So, like every other church in existence then.

      3. If McDonalds or any other private employer did that to you, they’d be busted out the wazzoo, for min-wage violations etc.

        There are several churches near my house and I’m pretty sure they also don’t pay the volunteers who show up to run food drives.

        1. Respectable churches give (donate for free) food, church services, etc. Counseling…

          Scientology is a profit-making business. You get fleeced by the assistance of their E-meter, only if you “donate” tens of thousands of dollars.

          Yes, there are other churches / cults out there who do the same thing… Pay-to-play… They are generous with NOTHING. The Mormon Church will not allow you into their temples if you do not tithe 10% of your every dime, as a member… That’s pay-to-play, a profit-making business. So no, I don’t think that the Mormon Church should get a tax exemption, just as I think that same thing about Scientiology…

          1. Sounds like you have a real problem with religion in general. You should take it up with the church.

          2. “profit making” is now a sin among libertarians? Your Progressive devil has apparently taken over both shoulders.

            The distinction between non-profits and for-profits is pretty weak. The employees still get paid; that’s their share of the profit. You could turn Boeing into a non-profit by buying out all the share holders. I bet the hired help would still expect to be paid, and you can bet the CxO would still expect pretty fancy salaries, including bonuses and golden parachutes.

            1. The employees still get paid; that’s their share of the profit.
              Said the guy who knows nothing about business.

  3. An organization connected to the Church of Scientology has run seminars in more than a dozen Florida correctional facilities over the past several years, public records obtained by Reason show.

    So?

  4. Scientology also rejects modern psychiatry, a theme which has also appeared in Criminon materials, a 2005 Los Angeles Times story found.

    So?

    1. So they want crazy people to go off of their meds and go back to doing crazy things. If they want to do that in the name of freedom, fine, but do NOT let the Government Almighty assist them!!!

      Here we are, paying taxes to Government Almighty, to help research better psych meds and get people to use them, then Government Almighty is going to go and assist Scientology in getting them OFF of their meds?!?!?

      THIS is crazy!!!!

      1. So they want crazy people to go off of their meds and go back to doing crazy things.

        So? You do it every day.

      2. What about Christian Scientists? Are they no longer religious?

        Plenty of other religious people trust in various Gods. Are you for banning prayer?

        1. I’m for giving tax breaks only for non-profit-making enterprises. Pray all you want to… Just don’t ask Government Almighty for special tax breaks for praying, while actually making profits off of your “praying”…

          Well OK, ask Government Almighty for whatever special breaks you want, but prepare, in a just world, to get laughed at for laughable requests!

  5. However, former high-ranking Scientologists say the group’s main interest in criminal justice reform is using expanded rehabilitative programming as a recruiting tool.

    “Criminon is just another front group for Scientology,” actress Leah Remini

    So?

    1. “This is just a play for Scientology to get the government to pay for its Scientology technology with its Criminon program.”

      So? Says SparkY the troll, with the poor soul.

      1. He’s got a point, several of them. Are you good for nothing but calling “troll”? Wait, I retract such an obvious rhetorical question of such an obvious troll.

      2. Poor alphabet troll backing up know SparkY troll.

        Another day here at Reason.

  6. You know who else needed their Soul’s/sole’s taken care of?

  7. Criminon International and the Church of Scientology did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

    You’d think by now that they would be a little faster on the draw siccing attorneys on you.

    1. They had to give that up, largely, in the days of the Internet…

  8. It offends me immensely that, in the names of simple freedom and religious freedom, I can pay (and get tax deductions for!) payments to the “Church” of Scientology, which will claim to help me fend off “engrams” via the use of an “E-Meter” (crude lie detector). All they’d have to do is to re-name the “engrams” to “psychoses” and the “E-Meter” to “Psychometer” and the FDA would be all over their case!

    Then of course, I am also free to consult various totally un-scientific fortune-tellers, and the FDA gives me that freedom yet again. Yet if I want to access the fruits of modern science, the FDA hinders me. So? You do the math, please!

    (We get to have freedom if it is labelled as irrational and religious, but RATIONAL and SCIENCE-BASED stuff gets VERY little freedom!)

    1. We get to have freedom if it is labelled as irrational and religious, but RATIONAL and SCIENCE-BASED stuff gets VERY little freedom!

      That’s life for ya.

    2. Why do you single out Scientology? I bet you can also make tax-free donations to GreenPeace and the Catholic Church.

      1. I single out Scientology because they are especially abusive, basically. Look up (Google) “Scientology slave” and see 7,490 hits. Look up “GreenPeace slave” and get 94 hits.

        That amount of simple research taps into the “wisdom of the crowds”, and tells you a LOT.

        1. So? “Christian slave” 94,900 hits

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  10. Not so long ago, the following would have sounded totally plausible:

    “If [inmates] are on psychiatric drugs, encourage them to get off. Psychiatrists are heavily into the prison system,” Criminon training materials from a California prison Reason articles obtained by the L.A. Times read. “Most jails and prisons have a staff psychiatrist that goes in daily and gives dosages of various and sundry mind-altering drugs to the inmates. Most of the time this is a ploy to keep the inmates sedated so that they don’t cause trouble.”

    I’m no fan of Scientology, but it is kind of surprising to see an article at Reason citing that as a negative. What would Thomas Szasz think of Reason passively defending the psychiatric industry by not pointing out that the quote from Scientology is actually spot on?

    1. I also found it strange to see this article on Reason in this fashion.
      “Numerous media investigations, ex-Scientologists-turned-whistleblowers, and documentaries have described Scientology as abusive, cult-like, and less a church than a business, and accused it of soaking its members for money and ruthlessly suppressing dissent within its ranks.” So, like lots of other churches?

      1. Reason staff have probably been watching Leah Remini’s show – its pretty fracking disgusting what scientology is doing. I’m not aware of any other big “church” that guilts and harasses with dedicated departments and otherwise threatens with their equivalent of ex-communication (from family and friends in the church) any member whom does not pony up five to six figure donations on a regular basis, whether they have the money or not.

  11. Aren’t Christian churches doing the same thing? “Recruiting” prisoners for their betterment?

  12. Numerous media investigations, ex-Scientologists-turned-whistleblowers, and documentaries have described Scientology as abusive, cult-like, and less a church than a business, and accused it of soaking its members for money and ruthlessly suppressing dissent within its ranks.

    But the same could be said of psychiatry, psychology, criminology, & penology generally.

    Really, I have no confidence in any “method” of reforming criminals, & am very skeptical of the utility of prison. I can understand the need to restrain agitated individuals for long enough for them to cool off?90 days max, usu. much less?but if somebody’s judged to need to be in longer, seriously consider’n should be given to putting such person to death. If the object be punishment, I’d think there to be more efficient means than incarcer’n, such as infliction of pain. If the object be rehab or “1st-time hab”, I don’t see value to physical restraint in that.

  13. I know kids raised in families where mom and dad truly believe that Methuselah lived to some mythical age. They believe that Jesus guy could walk on water and return from the dead. Some of the kids buy it, some don’t.
    I know a former Mormon who got ‘invoices’ for what the church figured was some percentage of his income.
    Unless we want to live in a society where only approved beliefs are allowed, that’s just part of the deal.
    However, I’d like the FL DoC to see if the claims of ‘improvement’ were anywhere close to real before any of those believers were allowed to ‘help’ the inmates.

  14. Scientology was created on a drunken bet by a hack SF writer, and once it took off got converted from prank to a criminal conspiracy. Their primary “sacrament” is a lie detector assisted interrogation which produces a blackmail file to use against you if you try to leave. Imaging the Mafia incorporated as a religion, and you’ll be close.

    I’m generally in favor of freedom of religion, even for new religions, but this is one case where we really need to recognize what’s going on. Maybe we have to tolerate the existence of Scientology on some level, but tolerance is the very most it should ever get.

    1. Agreed, well said. Tax breaks for this abusive cult is a joke!

  15. It is not for me to say if Scientology is a religion. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck then it is presumably a duck. Kind of a wierd cultish one.

    We certainly allow religion so what is the issue. Many religious groups offer counsel and broad based advice or programs without requiring membership or adherence to any doctrine. AA has been accused of being cultish and religious but if it works for you I see no problem. Then again they do not charge a dime.

    Read recently that there was a bit of a surge in inmates requesting kosher meals. Sure some of them are gaming the system as the kosher food was better. How do you sort that out, I have no idea.

  16. Why shouldn’t Scientologists recruit in prison.
    They should get equal time with MS-13, bloods, crips, and other benevolent organizations.

    1. It makes sense – criminal recruits to scientology would have the criminal skills to acquire the gobs of cash that the “church” basically shames and threatens out of its members.

  17. I don’t have a problem with Scientology or any other religion recruiting in our prisons. Trying to prevent any religion from trying to recruit in our prisons would be a direct violation of the First Amendment.

    And it doesn’t matter whether the religious beliefs in question are harmful. There isn’t anything in the First Amendment about how religious freedom is only protected if it’s a good religion. Bad religions, good religions, stupid religions, smart religions, they’re all protected by the First Amendment.

    Incidentally, the First Amendment also protects harmful speech, ugly speech, stupid speech, awful speech, etc., as well. The only speech the First Amendment doesn’t protect is speech that somehow violates someone’s rights.

    I don’t know why Scientologist beliefs or the harm it causes would enter into a libertarian discussion about religious freedom at all. Other people’s right to hold their own beliefs and try to persuade others to believe them doesn’t exist for your benefit or society’s benefit. There is a system of government which holds that individuals and their beliefs only exist for the benefit of greater society, and it’s called “totalitarianism”. I’m a libertarian. Regardless of whether Scientology is harmful to society or those who believe in it, believers have the right to believe in it and and persuade others to believe all the same.

    1. “Criminon has been active in Florida prisons since at least 2005, when the Florida legislature appropriated $500,000 for a “Criminon offender program.” (The funding was vetoed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.)”

      I have a huge problem with taxpayers paying for the propagation of any religion. That would have been a direct violation of the First Amendment.

  18. “The main text of the Criminon seminars is Hubbard’s book, The Way to Happiness, which outlines 21 principles or precepts.”

    Here they are:

    1. Take Care of Yourself
    2. Be Temperate
    3. Don’t Be Promiscuous
    4. Love and Help Children
    5. Honor and Help Your Parents
    6. Set A Good Example
    7. Seek To Live With The Truth
    8. Do Not Murder
    9. Don’t Do Anything Illegal
    10. Support A Government Designed and Run For All The People
    11. Do Not Harm A Person Of Good Will
    12. Safeguard And Improve Your Environment
    13. Do Not Steal
    14. Be Worthy of Trust
    15. Fulfill Your Obligations
    16. Be Industrious
    17. Be Competent
    18. Respect The Religious Beliefs of Others
    19. Try Not To Do Things To Others That You Would Not Like Them to Do To You
    20. Try To Treat Others As You Would Want Them To Treat You
    21. Flourish And Prosper

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