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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

It’s True: Massages, Saunas For Inmates

With the June 8 Nevada primary nearing, there was one TV ad in the Republican Senate race that caught our attention. It’s so outlandish that we thought it couldn’t possibly be true. Did former Nevada Assemblywoman Sharron Angle – a Republican backed by the Tea Party Express and the fiscally conservative Club for Growth — sponsor legislation to create a drug rehab program for state prisoners that included saunas and massage therapy? And was that program developed by the Church of Scientology?

That’s what Republican Sue Lowden claims in her ad, “Prison Spa,” that first aired May 29. We were skeptical, but found it to be largely true – although the claim that the program was proposed for all inmates is wrong and the images that accompany the video are misleading.

Lowden’s ad says: “Career politician and Senate candidate Sharron Angle sponsored a bill that would have used tax dollars to give massages to prisoners. Angle’s plan was developed by the Church of Scientology.”

Here are the facts: According to Nevada legislative records, Angle, a Nevada assemblywoman from 1998 to 2006, signaled her intent in late 2002 to draft legislation that would have created a demonstration drug rehabilitation program, the Second Chance Program, for state prisoners. The program, based on a similar program in Mexico, was developed by Criminon International, a California-based nonprofit affiliated with the Church of Scientology and its founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Criminon says on its website that it “utilizes the highly effective secular works of author and humanitarian L. Ron Hubbard to help inmates gain a new level of ability to study, to comprehend and to restore their integrity and pride.” The Associated Press described the program in a story about a March 1, 2003 trip to Ensenada State Prison in Mexico that Angle was arranging for her legislative colleagues and Nevada Department of Corrections Director Jackie Crawford.

Associated Press, Feb. 11, 2003: The Second Chance Program detoxifies inmates by administering vitamin and mineral supplements, massage and sauna treatments to drain the body of drug residue, according to the program’s brochure. The program then includes an education component, followed by a self-respect component based on Hubbard’s text “The Way to Happiness.” The self-respect module also includes one-on-one interviews with a guidance counselor. The program ends with a life skills component, training inmates on how to evaluate other people and how to change unwanted conditions of their lives. Inmates are then expected to take the program back into their communities upon their release.

The images in the ad, however, are misleading. Angle proposed the program “for the state’s female prison population,” the Associated Press reported. The Las Vegas Review-Journal said the same thing: “She is sponsoring legislation to put the program in women’s prisons in Nevada.” Yet the ad shows menacing male prisoners enjoying massages and saunas. Two men are seen reading magazines while getting their hair done and one is even getting a pedicure, although none of the press accounts at the time mention perms and pedicures as part of the detox program. Another inmate reveals a tattoo on his right bicep that says, “Thanks Sharron.” No need to thank Sharron, though, since no men would have been allowed in the demonstration program.

And, despite what the ad says, Angle never formally introduced the bill. The Associated Press on Feb. 18, 2003 wrote that she dropped the idea of pursuing the legislation. “The Reno Republican said introducing a bill to try the program in Nevada would be useless because of Democratic opposition. Democrats hold 23 of the 42 seats in the Assembly,” the AP wrote. Nevada legislative records show that on Dec. 16, 2002 Angle filed Bill Draft Request S-1003, which signaled her intention to file a bill at a later point. But she never did. Still, the gist of the ad – to our surprise – is correct.