When Rehab Programs Stink


If you’ve ever had a close-up look at a chicken slaughterhouse (poultry farm in politer business circles) you know damn near everything about the place stinks. The buildings, restrooms, break rooms, freezers and conveyer belts – the very air – they’re all drenched in a singular stench easy to identify yet hard to dispatch.

And the human side of the chicken processing business is no less odorous, albeit in moral terms: working conditions are harsh and dangerous, hours are long and pay rarely rises above the federal floor of $7.25 per hour.

Yet according to an Oct. 4, 2017 report filed by Reveal, a subsidiary of The Center for Investigative Reporting, each year in rural Oklahoma hundreds of court ordered, drug addicted, destitute men toil at a chicken farm with no pay at all.

The poultry plant under scrutiny is owned by Simmons Foods, Inc. – a $1.4 billion annual revenue company that enjoys a steady supply of workers by way of a nearby evangelical recovery center, Christian Alcoholics and Drug Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR). And they get them for free.

For its part, CAAIR champions manual labor as the centerpiece of its addiction services. Clients are required to remain in the program for one year; but in lieu of pay, they receive room, board and basic incidentals. Their only source of money is whatever funds family and friends deposit in their commissary accounts.

The partnership is a boon both ways: Simmons provides cheap poultry products for major multinationals (see Wal-Mart and KFC); and CAAIR rakes in buff court subsidies for handing out work boots and toothbrushes.

The Reveal report surfaced other dubious issues related to CAAIR. Some of the men ordered there for treatment have been charged but not yet sentenced. In more than a few instances their cases were dismissed, yet they’d already spent months processing chicken parts.

Second, CAAIR’s status as a certified substance abuse services provider is also suspect. Reveal found no record the program meets the state’s criteria for reimbursement from the courts, and only one counselor holds a relevant degree.

Most damning from a legal perspective, Reveal found that CAAIR regularly files workers’ compensation claims, yet pockets some or all of the payments – a federal offense that if proven would be grounds for shuttering the program’s doors.

Taken together, these revelations were enough for ACLU officials in Oklahoma and Arkansas to begin an investigation of their own. (Simmons is based just over the Arkansas line, thus the offices are working in tandem.)

Additionally, two lawsuits have been filed by former CAAIR clients, claiming they were forced to work by the courts and CAAIR, and without compensation.

Back to the Reveal report, it’d be swell to wrap up by saying such good independent reporting is making a dent out on the Oklahoma plains. Surely by now the truth will have held the courts, big business and a shyster treatment facility to account.

But that’s not how Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter, the reporters behind the story left it.

Facts are, the courts are still referring offenders to CAAIR. Simmons donated money to help build a third dorm. A fourth is in the works.

And they didn’t say it, but that stinks.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Pittsburgh, Pa. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, November 15, 2017


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