“They thought they were going to rehab. They ended up in chicken plants.”
So begins a story by the Center for Investigative Reporting. If you want to read a story about how corporations, counselors, and our court system take advantage of our most vulnerable systems, then I highly recommend you read the full story on the Reveal news site. I’ll warn you that you may find the story disturbing and depressing.
But if you’re short on time, I’ll try to point out the highlights, taken from the story.
- Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), sometimes referred to as “the Chicken Farm,” is a rural retreat in Oklahoma where defendants, instead of jail time, stayed for a year, allegedly getting addiction treatment and learning to live more productive lives.
- Most men sent to CAAIR are addicted to alcohol, meth, heroin or pain pills. They are usually young, white and can’t afford stays in private rehab programs.
- There wasn’t much substance abuse treatment at CAAIR. It was mostly factory work for one of America’s top poultry companies.
- The defendants worked for free. CAAIR pocketed the pay.
- If an individual got hurt or worked too slowly, his bosses threatened him with prison. When men did get hurt, CAAIR filed workers’ comp claims and kept the payouts. Injured men and their families never saw a dime.
- The beneficiaries of this and similar 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.
- Chicken processing plants are notoriously dangerous and understaffed. The hours are long, the pay is low and the conditions are brutal.
- Legal experts said forcing defendants to work for free might violate their constitutional rights.
- Another violation appears to be that drug courts in Oklahoma are required to send defendants for treatment at certified programs with trained counselors and state oversight, yet CAAIR is uncertified.
There are some success stories at CAAIR.
The strict regimen has helped some men get clean. Those who arrive without a home, steady employment or food said they find their basic needs met at CAAIR. Those who complete the program without breaking any rules are eligible for a gift of $1,000 when they graduate.
“I have to say CAAIR was the hardest thing to do in my life,” said Bradley Schott, who graduated in 2014. “I went to basic training at 16. And (Army) Ranger school. And it wasn’t as hard as CAAIR, mentally or physically. But it saved my life.”
So the potential is certainly there for such a program to work.
But it seems Schott’s experience is the exception, rather than the rule. In 2014, CAAIR reported that about 1 in 4 men completed the program.
This just seems like a system designed to take advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable.
As Pearl Buck wrote, “… the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.”
In this case, I’d argue that those involved, from CAAIR, to the corporations, to the courts, have failed the test, yet it’s the most helpless who face the consequences.
*Image from story