The National Council Of Juvenile and Family Court Judges does not recommend AA or NA meetings for juveniles for a variety of reasons. It is good to see some common sense being used, and to let the Judges know that 12 step programs have proved to not be beneficial for the majority of youths. Most do not fit the criteria for substance use disorder ( SUD). Feeling safe and being safe is another noted concern. Here are some highlights from the NCJFCJ opinion on the matter of 12 step groups and minors / youths.
Considering sexual predators and violent felons including rapists and murderers are mandated to AA and NA, no wonder their are safety concerns.
Youth with a longer history of substance use and greater addiction severity are
more likely to attend and benefit from AA or NA.This was the finding of an eight-year study of 160 adolescent inpatients (who may or may not have been involved in the juvenile justice system).
Researchers concluded that AA/NA was more successful with seriously addicted youth because these youth had come to believe that they could never again use substances and that they needed the ongoing support of AA/NA. However, serious addiction — and the mind-set that seems to accompany it — is rare among substance-involved youth in the juvenile justice system. Many court-involved youth referred to or required to attend sober support or 12-step meetings do not meet the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder (SUD). For court-involved youth with less serious substance use, the overall finding of the inpatient study may be more relevant: Adolescents simply do not engage or “buy into” the model in the way their adult counterparts may. This was reflected in their attendance, which was strongest when these youth first left treatment, but declined steadily and sharply over the years. Sober support is most effective when it engages youth and offers opportunities to interact with peers.
Many juvenile drug courts have not found the AA/NA model to be effective or helpful for their clients.It is not at all uncommon to step into a courtroom or juvenile probation office and listen to a youth explain that the AA/NA meeting simply didn’t work for them. The most frequent reason that youth give for leaving AA/NA is boredom or perceived lack of fit.
Why does AA/NA so often fail to engage adolescents? The most obvious reason may be its focus on adults. As mentioned above, adolescents do not display the level of addiction severity, or the long history of substance use, that adults may have accumulated. The presenters and participants attending AA/NA meetings are generally much older (the average participant is a 46-year-old Caucasian male) and discuss issues that youth simply do not relate to (such as child custody,divorce, and financial problems). What we know about how to make effective use of sober support with adolescents in the juvenile justice system…adolescents do display the level of addiction severity, or the long history of substance use, that adults may have accumulated.
These differences are important because a critical factor in the success of 12-step programs is the opportunity to share experiences with others who have suffered similar problems. When adolescents cannot identify with others in the group, or when they feel unsafe, they are unlikely to experience the program’s benefits.
This does not mean, however, that the 12-step model is altogether inappropriate for
adolescents. In fact, the process of group sharing, a basic tenet of 12-step approaches, may be well suited to this stage of development. Youth who were surveyed about their perceptions and use of AA/NA reported that what they most enjoyed was the group process. It was through this interaction that they received feelings of encouragement and hope. Researchers also found that when adolescents engage in a group process, it can “reduce feelings of shame, alienation, depression and isolation.”
This information points to a critical need for youth-specific groups and other sober support options that offer youth an opportunity to interact with peers in an atmosphere of open communication and trust. In developing these opportunities, courts should consider a broad range of activities that may be available in the average community. For some youth, meaningful peer connections may be found through a sport, art, or music program; for others it may be a faith-based resource, or even a community center that offers a variety of services. When adolescents cannot identify others in the group, or when they feel unsafe, they are unlikely to experience the program’s benefits.
Courts can legally mandate attendance at sober support meetings including AA/NA—but all youth must have the choice between AA/NA and secular programs. As a result of Federal court decisions, officials may not order mandatory participation in religious programs (including AA and NA) unless a secular alternative can be offered. Therefore, if a youth objects to the 12-step approach on religious grounds, and there is no other form of sober support available in the community, the juvenile court is prohibited from requiring the youth to participate.
The case law on sober
Though there is no case law specifically regarding mandating juveniles to AA/NA,
the Supreme Court’s view of mandating religious-based support groups is clear in
several court cases. It is therefore critical that judges, defense counsel, prosecutors, and probation staff be knowledgeable about the case law surrounding this issue.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Fourteenth Amendment makes the provisions applicable to the States.
Justice Black wrote in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1, 15-16, 67 S.Ct. 504, 91 L.Ed.711 (1947), the first modern Establishment Clause case, that the clause “means at least” that “[n]either a state nor the Federal Government….can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance.” In addition, “It is beyond dispute that, at a minimum, the Constitution guarantees that government may not coerce anyone to support or participate in religion or its exercise” Lee v. Weisman, 505 U.S. 577, 587 (1992). Both cited in Inouye v. Kemna, 504 F.3d 705,713 (9th Cir 2007).
Federal case law interpreting the First Amendment Establishment Clause has determined that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) are religious programs and has prohibited courts and prison officials from ordering mandatory participation by probationers, parolees, and inmates in either program when no secular alternative is available.A summary of each of the cases is outlined with their findings on the following page.