Forced Narcotics Anonymous
Participation Barred from Prisons

September 8, 1996

Madison, Wisconcin (AP) A prison program that tells inmates to seek God's help in kicking drugs violates their religious freedom if they're forced to participate, a federal appeals court has ruled in a Wisconsin case.

The recent decision came in a case filed by James W. Kerr, a former inmate at the state's Oakhill Correctional Institution near Madison. He complained about participation in a Narcotics Anonymous program.

The 12-Step program, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, is used throughout the state prison system, Department of Corrections spokesman Bill Clausius said.

"While we have them in prison, we're trying to help inmates deal with alcohol and drug abuse problems, and AA and NA are two programs that have been proven to work," he said.

Oakhill Assistant Warden Jeff Wydeven said participation in the program is strictly voluntary.

But the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago said testimony showed Kerr was "subject to significant penalties if he refused to attend NA meetings: classification to a higher security risk category and adverse notations in his prison record that could affect his chances for parole."

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