Report: Drug court 'rehab' provides unpaid labor for poultry industry. Arkansas offenders and businesses involved. | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Report: Drug court 'rehab' provides unpaid labor for poultry industry. Arkansas offenders and businesses involved.

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 1:46 PM

click to enlarge reveal.jpg

Bombshell article from Reveal, the website of the Center for Investigative Reporting
:

It reveals a very dark side to the rise in drug courts meant to steer drug abusers to rehabilitation and new lives rather than prison.

But in the rush to spare people from prison, some judges are steering defendants into rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants.
The article focuses on an Oklahoma facility that receives some people from Arkansas,  Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. Known as the chicken farm, it's nominally intended to give defendants a year of addiction treatment. Brad McGahey told a different story.

There wasn’t much substance abuse treatment at CAAIR. It was mostly factory work for one of America’s top poultry companies. If McGahey got hurt or worked too slowly, his bosses threatened him with prison.

And he worked for free. CAAIR pocketed the pay.
Reveal goes on:

But in the rush to spare people from prison, some judges are steering defendants into rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry, an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

The programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants.

The beneficiaries of these programs span the country, from Fortune 500 companies to factories and local businesses. The defendants work at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Oklahoma, a construction firm in Alabama, a nursing home in North Carolina.

Perhaps no rehab better exemplifies this allegiance to big business than CAAIR. It was started in 2007 by chicken company executives struggling to find workers. By forming a Christian rehab, they could supply plants with a cheap and captive labor force while helping men overcome their addictions.

At CAAIR, about 200 men live on a sprawling, grassy compound in northeastern Oklahoma, and most work full time at Simmons Foods Inc., a company with annual revenue of $1.4 billion [It just announced a major expansion in Northwest Arkansas that will benefit from signifcant state taxpayer subsidies]. They slaughter and process chickens for some of America’s largest retailers and restaurants, including Walmart, KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. They also make pet food for PetSmart and Rachael Ray’s Nutrish brand.

Simmons Foods now is so reliant on CAAIR for some shifts that the plants likely would shut down if the men didn’t show up, according to former staff members and plant supervisors.

Chicken processing plants are notoriously dangerous and understaffed. The hours are long, the pay is low and the conditions are brutal.

Men in the CAAIR program said their hands became gnarled after days spent hanging thousands of chickens from metal shackles. One man said he was burned with acid while hosing down a trailer. Others were maimed by machines or contracted serious bacterial infections.Those who were hurt and could no longer work often were kicked out of CAAIR and sent to prison, court records show. Most men worked through the pain, fearing the same fate.



There's much more to the story, which says Arkansas is among the states that supplies workers to the program. They get beds, meals and 12-step programs in return for their labor. Weekly Bible study is mandatory.

The article says that Simmons has laid off paid workers while expanding use of the Christian facility, something a spokesman for Simmons disputed. The article says Tyson Foods has also linked up with the rehab program, which, the article details, has been lucrative for its founders.

The article also says Workers Compensation claims for injured workers were paid to the center, not the injured workers. It tells the long story of such a worker, now addicted to pain pills from an injury with recurring symptoms, and the center's fight to deny him benefits.

This is an ugly, sprawling story with many tentacles. We're following up on the Arkansas connections, but the Oklahoma ACLU is talking about a lawsuit over the revelations. More is yet to come.

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