Criminalized women and twelve step programs: Addressing violations of the law with a spiritual cure

Susan Sered, Maureen Norton-Hawk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous hold a uniquely institutionalized status within the United States correctional system. Twelve Step meetings are held in rehabilitation and detoxification programs and inside prisons; Courts often mandate Twelve Step participation for parolees; and women who have been under correctional supervision may need to show proof of attending Twelve Step meetings in order to regain custody of their children. Drawing on four years of fieldwork with a community of criminalized women in Massachusetts, this paper highlights the convergence of cultural categories of illness, crime and sin as well as the interpenetration of social institutions of medicine, law and religion in the United States' response to drug addiction. Arguing that AA / NA should properly be seen as a religious movement, this paper questions common contemporary assumptions regarding non-denominational "spirituality" as a vaguely universal and benign therapeutic modality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)37-60
Number of pages24
JournalImplicit Religion
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcoholics anonymous
  • American religion
  • Medicalization
  • Twelve step programs
  • Women


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