Simmons Foods in Southwest City, Mo., receives workers from several rehab programs. Credit: Shoshana Walter/Reveal

We published an investigation this week featuring Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery, a rehab program that puts court defendants to work at chicken plants.

The workers don’t get paid for their labor. CAAIR does.

We found a slew of rehab programs that supply cheap and captive workers to major poultry companies, such as Tyson Foods and Simmons Foods.

The chicken companies pay for the labor. In some programs, the rehabs pocket the wages, and the defendants work for free. In other programs, they get to keep some of their pay.

Rehab: Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program

Chicken company: Simmons Foods

A convicted meth dealer named Raymond Jones started DARP after finding God in another work-based program. Like CAAIR, DARP is Christian-based. The participants aren’t paid. It was CAAIR founder Janet Wilkerson’s inspiration.

Drug courts in Oklahoma routinely send men to DARP.

“You had to work six days a week,” said Tanner Woods, who was court-ordered to the program. “I was worse off when I left DARP than I was when I got there.”

One man severely hurt his ankle while working in the chicken plants, according to a lawsuit. Rather than get him proper treatment, DARP sent him “right back to work.” Another drug court defendant who was recovering from back surgery was forced to work at Simmons, under threat of prison. He said he worked 14-hour days, six days a week, according to his deposition in a lawsuit.

DARP’s founder, Jones, did not respond to calls for comment.

Rehab: The People’s Network

Chicken companies: George’s Inc., Tyson

The Missouri program puts defendants to work at chicken plants owned by George’s Inc. and Tyson. They get about 5 percent of their total pay if they complete the program, according to Bryan Boman, a TPN employee.

Boman said the rehab operates like a temp agency for companies with high turnover rates.

“It is work therapy because it shows them the benefit of working for a year,” said Eric Freeman, who used to work for TPN. “There is benefit to hard manual labor.”

Rehab: Northeastern Oklahoma Council on Alcoholism

Chicken companies: Simmons, Tyson

NOCA puts some defendants to work processing chicken for Simmons Foods and Tyson, one of the country’s largest poultry producers. The defendants work for free for a certain period of time, and then are allowed to keep a portion of their pay.

An employee said NOCA’s directors were unavailable to comment.

Rehab: Freedom from Addiction through Christ, aka “The Ark”

Chicken companies: Tyson, Simmons

Men pay $1,200 to enter the rehab program and mostly keep their wages. They pay the rehab $200 per week for rent and transportation.

“The Ark is supposed to be a rehab,” said Harvey Fields, a former participant who now works full time at Tyson. He said the program helped him recover from his addiction, but said there’s very little to the program except for work at the plant. “Once you done pass a urine sample and you get a job, everything else goes out the window.”

Aletha Redden, The Ark’s executive director, said many participants leave the program “with huge savings.”

Simmons Foods and George’s did not respond to calls for comment.

A spokesman for Tyson Foods said it doesn’t actively seek out rehab participants.

We’re not soliciting job applicants from these programs, however, clients of these organizations may seek work with us just like anyone else,” he said.

This post has been updated to note that Harvey Fields said that “The Ark” helped him recover from his addiction. 

Have a tip about rehab programs that put defendants to work? Let us know.

Amy Julia Harris can be reached at aharris@revealnews.org, and Shoshana Walter can be reached at swalter@revealnews.org. Follow them on Twitter:@amyjharris and @shoeshine.

Amy Julia Harris

Amy Julia Harris is a reporter for Reveal, covering vulnerable communities. She and Reveal reporter Shoshana Walter exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting and won a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting from the Society of Professional Journalists. It also led to four government investigations, including two criminal probes and four federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery and fraud.

Harris was a Livingston Award for Young Journalists finalist for her investigation into the lack of government oversight of religious-based day cares, which led to tragedies for children in Alabama and elsewhere. In a previous project for Reveal, she uncovered widespread squalor in a public housing complex in the San Francisco Bay Area and traced it back to mismanagement and fraud in the troubled public housing agency.

Before joining Reveal, Harris was an education reporter at The Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. She has also written for The Seattle Times, Half Moon Bay Review, and Campaigns and Elections Politics Magazine.

Shoshana Walter

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.