Recruitment to Teen Challenge in the Court and Prison System
Not surprisingly, Teen Challenge relies heavily on recruitment from the court system and directly from jails. Teens who ended up in the Teen Challenge programs did not really “volunteer.” Teen Challenge gets the vast majority of its residents either directly from the jails or from courts which sentence them to a live-in program in lieu of jail. This usually happens after the judge gives the individual a choice to go to a correctional facility or Teen Challenge for year. Any student leaving Teen Challenge without completion of the 12 month program can be court ordered to a correctional facility for non-completion of the courts requirements. Teen Challenge also actively recruits right from the jails. So the combination of Teen Challenge jail recruitment strategies and extensive funding supplied by the Faith-based and Community Initiative grants along with an exemption from having to demonstrate compliance with existing standards, faith based facilities were flourishing.
The Proselytizing Report: "Teen Challenge" July 26, 1984, by Rick Ross to the Religious Advisory Committee to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) on May 10, 1984 states that prison chaplains throughout the Arizona Department of Corrections are expected to facilitate religious programming in a neutral, non-biased manner. Teen Challenge openly admitted that its’ primary purpose is the promotion of a specific religious belief system through confrontational evangelism. Teen Challenge is run by the Assemblies of God. Any chaplain who engages in facilitating a program for Teen Challenge could easily be seen as assisting in proselytizing. The Teen Challenge program has often been equated to a drug rehabilitation theme however Teen Challenge does not do substance abuse treatment and does very little medical treatment at all due to a lack of medically qualified staff. However, in the organization's literature the "Teen Challenge Cure" is stated as follows: "The only cure for . . . drug abuse, is Jesus Christ." The connections between Teen Challenge and the penal system of the State of Arizona are numerous. Many full time jail and prison chaplains have dual positions as both volunteers and/or coordinators for Teen Challenge in addition to their staff position funded by the State of Arizona.
In 1998, a boy filed suit against Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch and Assemblies of God, alleging that a counselor, who was a convicted drug trafficker, sexually assaulted clients at the ranch. The lawsuit also claimed that the ranch’s Executive Director, the church and the ranch’s board knowingly hired people with criminal histories to serve as counselors." (Austin American-Statesman, 5/13/1998) http://www.texnews.com/1998/texas/molest0513.html Dallas Teen Challenge Boys Ranch in Winnsboro was sued because a counselor and convicted drug trafficker sexually molested a young man there and two other boys, one of whom was 16 or younger. The law suit alleged that "(The counselor) sexually molested (the plaintiff) on at least six different occasions at the ranch." The lawsuit further alleged that the church, ranch Executive Director Paul Ecker and the ranch's board knowingly employed men with criminal histories as counselors despite being informed by state regulators the practice was illegal. According to the lawsuit, most of the residents were there as a condition of probation or deferred adjudication and had psychological or substance abuse problems. During the day, they performed chores, including caring for livestock, and took part in religious education. At night, they were "locked down" and monitored by alarm systems, to prevent unauthorized departures. Many of them had substance abuse problems and were admitted to the program as part of their probation. Despite the repeated citations from state regulatory authorities, The Assemblies of God entities continued to send men who had criminal records involving narcotics and physical violence to the facility. There was a mixing of these convicted criminals with young teens sent to the facility by their parents.
Falsified Statistics to Further Successful Image
Teen Challenge continually boasts about their unbelievably high success rates and uses this to promote their faith-based treatment program. But the last statistically significant evaluation of Teen Challenge was done in 1975 on a sample of Pennsylvania Teen Challenge graduates from 1968. That’s right – it was 39 years ago. Why is there no other study of the Teen Challenge program which boosts 200 residential treatment centers in the USA?
The only study done was by The National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago. They developed the survey instrument, located survey participants, conducted the personal interviews, and obtained a urine sample to test for drugs. The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded the first year of the study. -A total of 186 persons, divided into 3 groups, were interviewed for this project:
•P1=70 people (students that entered Brooklyn Teen Challenge, but dropped out and never attended the Rehrersburg program.)
•P2=52 people (students that completed the Brooklyn program who later dropped out of the Rehrersburg program.)
•P3=64 people (graduates of the Rehrersburg Training Center program.)
The results claim that 67% of the graduates (P3) are drug-free as indicated by the urinalysis test, even though 86% stated they were drug-free on the questionnaire. So, that would mean that 67% of the P3 group, or 43 people remained marijuana and heroin-free 7 years after graduating from Teen Challenge.
So, if 43 graduates remained marijuana and heroin-free 7 years after this survey, what about the other 21 graduates and the remaining 143 people who dropped out of the program? Also, the test results do not indicate whether the graduates tested positive for other drugs such as alcohol, other narcotics or nicotine!
This study suggested that Teen Challenge had a success rate of 86%. But Bill McColl, executive director of the National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, dismisses both the statistic and the study. He states that the study was done too long ago and conducted with an extraordinarily small sample group. This leads us to believe that this study has almost no statistical validity. (Karly from Teen Challenge Cult Blog)
In 1997, Texas became the first state to use the faith-based InnerChange Prison Program that has now taken root in Iowa and Kansas. Charles Colson who runs the Prison Fellowship Ministries has touted the success of his ministries based on studies that show lower recidivism rates among participants. However, Dan Mears, of the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, noted that the studies focused only on inmates who completed the program, while comparing its recidivism rates to those of all participants—including dropouts—of selected secular programs. Dan Mears found that unfortunately, there was methodologically flawed research which was being currently being offered as proof of efficacy to policy makers. Mears and his fellow reviewers at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C. concluded "Despite the call for evidence-based programs and policies instead of belief- and emotion-driven ones, current faith-based prisoner reentry programs don't remotely constitute evidence-based practice." http://www.fsu.edu/news/2006/10/04/prison.programs/ Dan Mears points out that these basic minimum criteria are taken from the text Crime: Public Policies for Crime Control: “A rigorous evaluation requires four things to be done: First, people must be assigned randomly to either the prevention program or a control group...Second, the prevention must actually be applied. Sometimes people are enrolled in a program but do not in fact get the planned treatment. Third, the positive benefit, if any, of the program must last for at least one year after the program ends. It is not hard to change people while they are in a program; what is difficult is to make the change last afterward. Fourth, if the program produces a positive effect...that program should be evaluated again in a different location.” Dan Mears concluded that Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM) had grossly misrepresented outcome data in order to claim success and garner political support. The apparent stunning success of Prison Fellowship Ministry's InnerChange Freedom Initiative was gleefully announced by then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, along with a White House photo-op declaring that here was proof that the kind of sectarian faith-based programs favored by the Bush administration were the answer. When those results were examined, it turned out that the InnerChange participants were actually more likely than controls to be rearrested, and "noticeably more likely" to be reimprisoned. http://www.bluevirginia.us/showDiary.do;jsessionid=59EBD9BCE2225A5B3E28C076EC305E60?diaryId=642
Faith Based Prison Programs
Faith based programs proliferated in private prison systems and even in state run facilities. Texas Senate Concurrent Resolution 44 urged corrections and law enforcement entities to use more voluntary faith-based rehabilitation programs and facilities to change the lives of criminal offenders. The InnerChange faith-based prison experiment in Sugar Land resulted from this legislation. InnerChange was the nation’s first-ever, 24-hours-a-day and value-based pre-release program, aimed at helping inmates achieve spiritual and moral transformation.
In 1999 the State of Louisiana enacted a law to encourage faith based prison programs. The State of Ohio in 2007 established a task force to study such correctional programs. The State of Georgia actually stated that faith-based prison programs were the most effective in dealing with prisoners and therefore created a prison chaplaincy appreciation day. But there are many who do not hold the view that these faith based prison programs are better than other programs and may even force inmates to qualify for kinder treatment during their prison life to profess a religious belief and to satisfy the evangelical Christians running the rehabilitation program that he is making acceptable spiritual progress. Iowa found that its faith-based prison wards were in violation of the establishment clause which prevents a governmental agency from "supporting a sectarian cause through the transfer of public funds." The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is the first of several pronouncements in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion".
The US District Court for Eastern Iowa ruled that Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries could no longer be used as the sole drug rehabilitation program. These are concerns about the Prison Fellowship Ministries:
a) Inmate's kids were targeted for "bait and switch" evangelism.
b) The only way to get decent housing was to join the program .
c) The only way to be eligible for parole was to join up; if one left or was kicked out, one essentially lost one's eligibility for parole.
d) Prison Fellowship InnerChange promoted "theophostic counseling" in other words through prayer, biblically based, Christ-centered ministry. This model seeks to cure prisoners by identifying sin as the root of their problems. Inmates learn how God can heal them permanently, if they turn from their sinful past, are willing to see the world through God's eyes, and surrender themselves to God's will.
InnerChange relies and directs members to God as the source of love and inner healing. Members then build on this new relationship to recast human relationships based on Biblical insights.
Teen Challenge Director Fred Lamberson III said that “the Teen Challenge facilities are Christian discipleships, not drug and alcohol programs.” But Judges are court ordering persons with substance abuse problems into the Teen Challenge program. Teen Challenge states that Teen Challenge does not take in people who have prior sexual offenses or violent offenders. Obviously, that is not true! See these examples:
The Lebanon Daily News Jun 29, 2007:Jesse L. Smith, 34, of 205 Strack Drive, Myerstown, was sentenced to two years probation and fined $3,000 for three drunken-driving convictions. Smith requested placement in the Teen Challenge residential drug-and-alcohol program at Rehrersburg. The judge ordered Smith to successfully complete the program or face a probation violation and a jail sentence. Was the judge informed of the fact that Teen Challenge is not a drug and alcohol treatment center?
The Lansing State Journal July 5, 2007: David Leon Davis, 26, of Charlotte, criminal sexual conduct, fourth degree, habitual offender, fourth conviction, 365 days in jail, 173 days credit, 90 days suspended upon completion of Teen Challenge program and aftercare, $83.60 restitution, $600 supervision fee, $60 state cost, $60 to Crime Victims Rights Fund.
Criminal Court Docket (published July 13, 2007) in Cumberland County, Tennessee: Brian E. Elmore, in community corrections on a four-year sentence for burglary and theft more than $1,000, pleaded guilty to violation of probation and was ordered to serve 180 straight days with credit for 91 days already served with only release being directly into the Teen Challenge program. If he fails in the Teen Challenge program, he will be facing the remainder of the four-year sentence.
The above convictions/sentences prove that not only are the courts sentencing all kinds of convicted criminals to Teen Challenge but Teen Challenge obviously accepts a wide range of criminals into their program! These are some of the cases of prisoners paroled to a Teen Challenge facility - felonious assault, aggravated burglary, felonious larceny, larceny of a firearm, possession of stolen goods, breaking and entering a motor vehicle, breaking and entering a residence, felonious financial card theft, First degree armed robbery, delivery of .5 grams or more of cocaine, delivery of under .5 grams of cocaine, felony Burglary, and misdemeanor theft. Thus children placed there by parents for being unruly are housed with persons with felony records and sometimes with records of violence and sometimes sexual abuse.
Hiring of Registered Sex Offenders, Felons and Violent Offenders
With no regulatory control over the quality of the staffing, and no required criminal background checks, Teen Challenge in Winthrop Maine hired registered sex offenders for staff. Teen Challenge in Maine hired registered sex offender, Shondi Fabiano to be co- director at Teen Challenge. She was admittedly convicted of Second Degree Child Molestation in Rhode Island. She is listed on the National Sex Offender Public Registry but she is also listed officially as a co-head of Teen Challenge New England by the website of the Northern New England District of the Assemblies of God. Shondi Fabiano was convicted of sexual assault of a minor under the age of 14. Fabiano would have been nearly 24 years old at the time of the offense. It also appears Fabiano has additional criminal history for she has a conviction for fraud (specifically attempts to obtain money under false pretenses, insurance fraud, and conspiracy) and a dismissed charge of possession of a controlled substance. Fabiano is still head of Teen Challenge New England despite not only state laws that prohibit sex offenders and persons convicted of crimes against children from working in children's homes. In fact, technically Fabiano should not legally be able to work at Teen Challenge at all, much less have her residence listed as Teen Challenge in Maine's sex offender registry; http://www.nsopr.gov Maine has some pretty strict laws regarding contact with minors by registered sex offenders. But Shondi Fabiano is not the only rapist employed by Teen Challenge in Winthrop, Maine. Teen Challenge also hired Dennis Knox who was convicted of gross sexual assault after raping an unconscious female and is listed on the Maine Sex Offender Registry. http://sor.informe.org
In Minnesota Teen Challenge recruited an ex-con, Frank Vennes Jr to handle their finances. This prison convert to Christianity who was a participant in the Charis Prison Ministries was invited to serve on the Boards of Northwestern College and Minnesota Teen Challenge. As a member of the board of Teen Challenge he was responsible for finances but it turned out that he was a money launderer. It is now evident that he was criminally involved in the Thomas Petters ponzi fraud involving Sun Valley Airlines. Mr. Vennes job with the Petters Group was apparently to line up investors. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has been tied to the investigation of Tom Petters who is accused of running a ponzi scheme. One of Tom Petter's associates is born-again ex con Frank Vennes Jr.. Frank Vennes is CEO of four companies: Metro Gem, Inc. (corporate finance), Metro Gold, Inc. (precious metals, rare coin firm), Metro Capital, LLC (commercial real estate) and Resort Ventures, LLC (residential real estate). Mr. Vennes also backed the Fidelis Foundation which has directed millions of dollars of gifts and is one of the largest grant-making foundation in Minnesota and what influence he may have had over their grant giving choices has not yet been revealed. Michele Bachmann has received many thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from Vennes, his family and lawyer/lobbyist G. Craig Howse and even some campaign contributions from Vennes’ wife Kimberly, who uses the same P.O. box number as Vennes. Vennes, served on the Board of Directors of the Northwestern Bible College. But now more than 100 pastors, ministers and nonprofit organizations have joined together in a federal racketeering lawsuit filed in Minneapolis against Tom Petters and some of his associates. Carolyn Glass Anderson is the attorney with the Minneapolis law firm Zimmerman Reed that filed the case.
According to a federal search warrant affidavit used to search Vennes’ home, Vennes hauled in more than $28 million in commissions for his alleged role in luring five investors to pony up $1.2 billion in Petters’ alleged giant Ponzi scheme. Frank Vennes Jr. had a known criminal history before he joined with Minnesota Teen Challenge, having been arrested in 1986 for suspected money laundering and later admitted that he and his co-defendants received $370,000 from the undercover agent and transferred it, minus their substantial commissions, to the Bahamas, the Isle of Man, and Switzerland without complying with federal currency transaction reporting laws. In the last transaction, Vennes personally delivered $100,000 to Switzerland, where his associates lost or stole it.
Former Sanford, Fla. Teen Challenge director Wayne Gray was forced to resign when his unlicensed telemarketing scam discovered that Teen Challenge only paid workers 33 cents a day for a 40 hour work week. They pretended to sell timeshare vacations form the “Disney Planning Center Resort”. Men convicted of financial crimes took the customer’s credit card information over the phone. Inside the charity’s phone rooms, some men convicted of financial crimes, gathered consumers’ personal information like their names, credit card numbers and security codes to their credit cards and took these credit card lists back to their dorms. Kiernan said when he worked the phones he didn’t tell callers he was in Teen Challenge on a jail diversion program for grand theft and burglary convictions. He just read scripts to sell satellites and time shares and collected credit card numbers. The investigation revealed that this scam which had no relationship to Disney. Wayne Gray moved on to Oklahoma Teen Challenge as Executive Director. Todd Ulrich reporter for Action 9 news in Orlando Florida could not find any state registrations for a telemarketing operation at the Sanford address. http://evangelicalsunderamicroscope.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/teen-challenge-telemarketing-slavery-fraud/
These problems with fraud and money laundering are not limited to these few instances. The true level of criminal conduct is not well documented because of lack of inspection and regulation of these facilities including lack of oversight and transparency.
The International Nature of US Non-Profit Faith Organizations such as Teen Challenge
Teen Challenge Global has 1060 Teen Challenge programs in 80 countries. Teen Challenge USA International has programs overseas as well. Teen Challenge therefore operates in a variety of countries including the Bahamas, Nauru, and the Philippines. Teen Challenge is run by the Assemblies of God which runs its own Credit Union which is located in Missouri. The Assemblies of God Credit Union has 13,883 members as of 2011 and assets of $93.3 million. It opened in 1951 and has 32 full time employees and 9 part-time. This is a state chartered natural person credit union. Teen Challenge is an outreach of the Assemblies of God church which has its own centers in numerous countries.
Slate magazine writer David Plotz described Colson as "Richard Nixon's hard man, the 'evil genius' of an evil administration. David Plotz (March 10, 2000). "Charles Colson - How a Watergate crook became America's greatest Christian conservative". Slate. http://www.slate.com/id/77067
In November 2009, Colson signed an ecumenical statement known as the Manhattan Declaration calling on evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox not to comply with rules and laws permitting abortion, same-sex marriage and other matters that go against their religious consciences. http://demossnews.com/manhattandeclaration/press_kit/manhattan_declaration_signers
The Non Profit Times Feb. 1, 2002 Faith-Based Changes Come From Within a Texas Prison by Richard Williamson http://www.nptimes.com/Feb02/npt2.html
In 2007 the civil rights group, Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a lawsuit attesting challenging the existence of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. This Supreme Court Decision, the Hein v. Freedom From Religion Foundation, 551 U.S. 587 (2007) in which the Supreme Court ruled that taxpayers do not have the right to challenge the constitutionality of expenditures by the executive branch of the government. Thus the Supreme Court supported the establishment of faith based initiatives. At question was whether taxpayers have the right to challenge the existence of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The case centered on three Supreme Court precedents: Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83 (1968), Bowen v. Kendrick, 487 U.S. 589 (1988), and Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464 (1982). (See The Non Profit Times Feb. 1, 2002 Faith-Based Changes Come From Within a Texas Prison by Richard Williamson http://www.nptimes.com/Feb02/npt2.html )
The establishment clause has generally been interpreted to prohibit 1) the establishment of a national religion by Congress, or 2) the preference by the U.S. government of one religion over another. The first approach is called the "separation" or "no aid" interpretation, while the second approach is called the "non-preferential" or "accommodation" interpretation. The accommodation interpretation prohibits Congress from preferring one religion over another, but does not prohibit the government's entry into religious domain to make accommodations in order to achieve the purposes of the Free Exercise Clause. (See American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois v. City of St. Charles, supra, 794 F.2d at 270)