Scientologists hunt for recruits inside prison
Ian Burrell is Assistant Editor and Media Editor at The Independent, i paper and Independent on Sunday. He covers news from the whole media sector from television, press, radio and advertising to technology. His weekly column on the media appears every Monday in The Independent and i paper. He also writes on media, music and culture, including long-form pieces for The Independent’s Saturday magazine and the Independent on Sunday’s magazine, New Review. He is a regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s What The Papers Say and a specialist commentator to Monocle 24 radio. He has contributed to most major broadcast outlets including BBC television and radio, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera and LBC. He has also written on media for GQ magazine. Ian has been reporting on the media industry for The Independent for more than a decade. Previously he was the newspaper’s Home Affairs Editor. He worked at The Sunday Times for five years, including as a member of the investigative Insight team, covering stories on political funding, industrial espionage and the arms industry. Previously he worked in ITV for London Weekend Television, on a weekly current affairs programme presented by Danny Baker. Ian trained at the Birmingham Post & Mail and was Regional Reporter of the Year in Press Gazette’s national awards.
Monday 07 October 1996
The Scientologists are persuading prisoners to take courses in the teachings of their late guru L Ron Hubbard. The inmates complete question papers in their cells and send them to the Church of Scientology for marking.
Probation officers and prison reform groups are alarmed at the development, which comes at a time when prison rehabilitation programmes are being cut back.
Stephen Shaw, director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: "Prisoners are often vulnerable to the promises of cult religions. Everyone has a right to practise their beliefs but the Home Office must make sure that Scientologists are not using prisons as a recruiting ground."
Nico van den Berg, a Dutch lawyer who has set up the Scientologists' Criminon UK project said that 16 prisoners, in five jails, were undergoing the programme.
He said that it was intended to expand the scheme next year with Criminon volunteers going into prisons to take rehabilitation classes.
Mr Van den Berg added: "Once we become bigger we can actually go into prisons which might adopt the course as an official programme which all prisoners go through."
He said that Criminon was not seeking to recruit the inmates to Scientology but merely trying to turn them away from criminality by introducing them to The Way to Happiness, Hubbard's secular teachings on clean living.
The suggestion was greeted with suspicion by rehabilitation professionals. Harry Fletcher, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers, said: "There are now 57,000 people in prison, many of whom are desperate to change their lives. You can see why the Scientologists would see this as a fertile recruiting ground. This is one service we could do without."
Other critics have been more damning, suggesting that Scientology is a dangerous cult which uses brain-washing techniques on its followers.
In a 1984 High Court judgment, Mr Justice Latey, described Scientology as "corrupt, sinister and dangerous" and "grimly reminiscent of the ranting and bullying of Hitler and his henchmen".
The cult is now developing a different public image thanks partly to the way it has been embraced in Hollywood. Travolta's last film, Phenomenon, has been described by some critics as a thinly disguised piece of propaganda for Scientology, which claims to have 8 million members worldwide.
Meanwhile, senior prison service sources said that Lord McNair, the Liberal peer, was lobbying Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to allow Scientology services in jail.
- 1 Hair loss explained: How and why men go bald
- 2 Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
- 3 Artist takes LSD, draws herself over different stages of the 9-hour trip to show its effects
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs
£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...
£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...
£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...