The Problem of Courts Ordering People to A.A.
It has been a long-standing practice for courts throughout the United States to order offenders to attend meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous as a condition of their probation or parole. The way this works is the person ordered to attend meetings is given a paper to be signed by an A.A. member as proof that the person attended the meeting.
The problem with this of course is that A.A. is ANONYMOUS and doesn’t keep records of it’s members. Nor does A.A. provide the names and signatures of it’s members to the courts. The court ordered person could actually sign the paper on their own and it would be absolutely impossible for the court to prove that an A.A. member didn’t sign the paper.
It’s impossible for the courts to enforce the requirement for someone to attend an A.A. meeting, so if you’re reading this and the courts ordered you to attend A.A. meetings, don’t sweat it. If you don’t want to go to meetings, just sign the slip yourself or have someone else sign it for you. There’s no need to actually attend a meeting and there’s no way for the courts to prove one way or the other if you were at that meeting.
The practice also goes contrary to the traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. It could be argued that the tradition of not affiliating with outside enterprises is violated when an A.A. group signs a document for a court. When signing that paper, the A.A. group is actively participating with the court in the sentencing. I’ve even seen groups refuse to sign the paper until after the meeting, which forces the person to sit through a meeting that they perhaps would rather not endure. What good does that do? If anything it would turn the person off even further. Another problem is that the A.A. member is actively participating in the sentencing by forcing the person to comply.
Does it do any good to attend A.A. meetings against one’s will? When I was first getting sober, people would often tell me to “do it for myself”, and I think there’s something to that advice. If a person doesn’t want to stop drinking, then they aren’t going to stop drinking and ordering such a person to an A.A. meeting does no good whatsoever. I suppose there may be a few cases of reluctant meeting participants who eventually hear something in a meeting that turns on the light, but for the most part I think one needs to want it on their own.
If A.A. groups are going to participate with the criminal justice system by signing papers and enforcing meeting attendance, then the groups should know what type of offender is being sentenced to their meeting, and they need to implement some basic safety practices, such as informing newcomers to practice some caution as there may be people at the meeting ordered by the courts who aren’t serious about sobriety. This is important because the newcomer is often in a fragile state of mind and they are usually smothered with love and kindness from other AAs. This along with the praying and god talk gives the impression that they are in a safe place.
On December 1, 2014 attorneys for Alcoholics Anonymous World Services filed two motions to stop a lawsuit filed by the parents of Karla Brada Mendez who was murdered by Eric Allen Earle, a man who was ordered by the courts to attend A.A. meetings as an alternative to jail. Earle was a predator. He had no intention of stopping drinking and he was using A.A. to prey on women. These women were at a difficult time in their lives and were turning to help to what we in A.A. often refer to as the “last house on the block”.
Unfortunately, the practice of ordering felons to A.A. meetings is still widespread even though there have been court rulings over the past several years that A.A. is a religious program and a court is violating a person’s religious liberty by requiring A.A. attendance. Newcomers to A.A. may not be aware that they will be mixing with an assortment of people which may include criminals.
I don’t want to scare anyone from attending A.A. meetings. I’ve been sober in A.A. for more than 26 years now and I have always felt safe and haven’t experienced any problems. It’s just that people need to be careful. A.A. groups could help the situation by asking the courts to stop sentencing people to meetings. It should be explained to the courts that A.A. is an anonymous fellowship of lay people and we can no longer affiliate ourselves with the courts and play a role in the criminal justice system.