Some ‘Diversion’ Courts Send Defendants to Captive Labor

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Judges increasingly are sending defendants to rehab instead of prison or jail. Diversion courts have become the bedrock of criminal justice reform, aiming to transform lives and ease overcrowded prisons. 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, reports the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal. Programs promise freedom from addiction. Instead, they’ve turned thousands of men and women into indentured servants. The beneficiaries of these programs span the U.S., from Fortune 500 companies to factories and local businesses. The defendants may 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 Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR) in Oklahoma. 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. At “the Chicken Farm,” a rural retreat where defendants stay for a year, they are supposed to get addiction treatment and learn to live more productive lives. There isn’t much substance abuse treatment 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. They slaughter and process chickens for some large retailers and restaurants, including Walmart, KFC and Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen. Simmons Foods is so reliant on CAAIR for some shifts that the plants likely would shut down if the men didn’t show up. Men in the CAAIR program said their hands became gnarled after days spent hanging thousands of chickens from metal shackles.

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