Oklahoma Rehab Facility As Alternative For Prison Is Just A Slave Labor Camp For Poultry Industry
Sometimes you really have to wonder if the American criminal justice is just fundamentally broken. A new report from the Center for Investigative Reporting reveals that judges in Oklahoma and a handful of other states are essentially sending defendants to slave labor camps for private industry as an alternative to incarceration.
In Oklahoma, as in other states, judges are often encouraged to find alternative punishments for non-violent drug offenders with addiction problems. One of those alternative programs is run by the deceptively named Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR). The program is designed to give addicts work experience and addiction treatment in a rural retreat. Instead, it is merely free slave labor for America’s poultry industry.
Known as the “Chicken Farm”, the people sent there were put to work de-feathering and gutting slaughtered chickens at a plant owned by Simmons Foods. Simmons, with annual revenue of $1.54 billion, supplies poultry products to such large companies as Walmart, KFC, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, PetSmart, and Nutrish, a Rachael Ray brand. According to the report, defendants were threatened with prison if they got hurt or worked too slowly and were paid absolutely nothing. CAAIR pocketed everything. As one defendant said, “It was a slave camp. I can’t believe the court sent me there.” Another described it thusly, “They work you to death. They work you every single day. It’s a work camp. They know people are desperate to get out of jail, and they’ll do whatever they can do to stay out of prison.”
CAAIR required the people who worked there to sign forms specifically saying they are clients of the program and are not employees. That meant that CAAIR would not have to pay the “clients” who were injured on the job workmen’s compensation if, or more likely, when they were hurt, as processing chickens is an incredibly dangerous line of work. But that didn’t stop CAAIR from filing those compensation claims with the state and then pocketing the money. And those whose injuries prevented them working any more were terminated from the program and sent to prison.
In addition, CAAIR is not a certified addiction treatment facility in Oklahoma. It only has one properly licensed counsellor. It is not regulated by any state agency. It does not have any trained medical staff and it forbids psychiatric medicine. It does not allow the “client” to have a cellphone or any money. But it does require weekly Bible study and mandatory church attendance, as long as that does not interfere with the work they are also required to perform. One injured “client” who had has his hand mangled by machinery in the plant was told, “You can either work or you can go to prison. It’s up to you.” He chose prison. Other “clients” suffered from severe withdrawal and psychiatric problems after losing their access to drugs and legal medicines and being left without any medical care to help cope.
CAAIR was actually created by chicken company executives who were struggling to find workers and the program offered a most attractive deal to poultry executives, “[C]ompanies wouldn’t have to pay workers’ compensation insurance, payroll taxes or medical care. They could replace the workers for any reason at any time. Like a temp agency, her program would pay for everything; the men just needed to work. Simmons signed on. Later, Crystal Lake Farms and Tyson Foods Inc. did, too.” As the CAAIR workforce has increased, now numbering at least two hundred on an almost regular basis, Simmons itself has laid off its regular paid workers and many shifts at the plant are primarily manned by CAAIR “clients”.
While its “clients” get nothing, CAAIR executives are rolling in money. The program has generated $11 million in revenues over the last seven years and the two principals of CAAIR each make over $80,000 a year.
This would be bad enough under the guise of addiction treatment, but soon Oklahoma’s courts were sending CAAIR defendants who had no drug or addiction problems at all. Many “clients” were also never convicted of a crime or had their cases dismissed but were still directed to CAAIR anyway. This program of free slave labor has been so profitable for Simmons Foods that its CEO is encouraging CAAIR to open a fourth dormitory for its plant.
CAAIR is not the only program in the country where defendants are sent to work for private industry. It is hopefully the most egregious. Read the whole disgusting story. You won’t believe it but it’s true.