A North Carolina rehab program promised recovery, free of charge, to people struggling with drug addiction. When they arrived, they were put to work without pay at adult care homes for the elderly and disabled. Credit: Photo illustration by Gabriel Hongsdusit/Reveal

The Online News Association has honored Reveal with the Knight Award for Public Service for its All Work. No Pay. project.

The investigation from reporters Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walter found that under the guise of criminal justice reform, judges, big business and rehab operators have turned people with addiction into a new class of workers, one that enjoys no rights and receives no pay.

“This project exposed something many people weren’t aware of, capturing an unholy alliance between government and private industry, unjustly taking advantage of a defenseless group,” the award judges said. “It had measurable impact across multiple states and changed business practices. Truly impeccable work.”

Many of the rehab participants never have been convicted of a crime. They are sent to a work camp, forced to slaughter chickens, care for the elderly and disabled, or endure other hard labor for free, under the threat of prison. Grueling, dangerous labor is just about all the addiction treatment they get. The beneficiaries of this new brand of indentured servitude stretch from high levels of political power to Fortune 500 companies such as Coca-Cola and Walmart.

The system operated across the country, without scrutiny, until Harris and Walter stepped in. Their project also won the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

The other finalists for the Knight Award for Public Service were:

You can read Reveal’s full All Work. No Pay. coverage here. Journalists and community members can help expose more rehab work camps through the Rehab Reporting Network.