ACLU of Arkansas Investigating Claims of Forced Labor Camps Disguised As Rehabilitation Centers

Oct 20, 2017

Example of someone holding a chicken by its feet in a processing plant.
Credit Image via U.S. Department of Defense

The ACLU of Arkansas is investigating claims that an organization in Oklahoma known as Christian Alcoholics and Addicts In Recover (CAAIR) "is operating forced labor camps disguised as rehabilitation centers", according to a press release.

A report from The Center for Investigative Reporting revealed defendants facing jail time have a choice to either go to prison or go work in a program like CAAIR while they recover. Clients worked without pay in chicken processing plants, some owned by Arkansas-based Simmons Foods. According to the report Simmons Foods continued to lay off employees "while expanding its use of CAAIR. Simmons now is so reliant on the program 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."

In a statement, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arkansas, Holly Dickson, said, "Those sentenced to CAAIR expecting reputable treatment were sold a false bill of goods."

"It's a choice. The courts will give them a choice of getting help, and not necessarily at CAAIR, there's other places in the state they can go," said CAAIR CEO and former spokesperson for Simmons Foods, Janet Wilkerson in a phone interview. "But the courts will say to them 'you can go get help in lieu of going to prison' and then the guys choose where they call." 

If a defendant chooses to be come a client at CAAIR there's an interview process. "We want them to know what they're getting into, who we are," said Wilkerson. "We want them to understand, we are not a treatment facility or dispense drugs. We are a recovery center that focuses on the 12-step program through Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous."

"The ACLU has intervened on behalf of several individuals who have been sentenced by trial courts or drug courts to similar programs," said Dickson. "And by intervened I mean, contacted the courts concerning the appropriateness or inappropriateness of use of these types of programs."

These programs are not limited to chicken processing plants says Dickson. "One issue we've encountered is that many people who have been subject to these types of programs are afraid of filing suit or going public , because they're concerned they will end up in prison."

On the reason workers under CAAIR's supervision are unpaid Wilkerson said "they're paid in services. We don't charge them anything up front to come here. We are designed to help folks that don't have insurance to pay for treatment or whose families can't afford to pay for treatment. We wanted to provide a place where the men would work and that would pay for their stay while they're recovering."

Wilkerson also admitted they don't track the long term success of people under their supervision "but probably should."

CAAIR currently holds a 2.2 out five star rating on Google with a two star review dating as far back as four years ago. Don Engie, a pastor at Church of the Nazarene in Grove, Oklahoma wrote that he has "seen first hand how underhanded, manipulative, and dishonest they are. They are absolutely only concerned with the 'income' they get for these men - and look at them as nothing more than convicts who can't be trusted -, this according to the people leading this 'Christian' facility. Pray for these men......"