Addicts Forced to “Recover” in Plastics Factory, Chicken Processing Plant
A class action lawsuit was recently filed in Arkansas alleging that rather than getting addicts help, drug courts sent them to programs which forced them to work in dangerous conditions for free. The main targets of the lawsuit are Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP) and Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR). The two programs allegedly put addicts to work at a plastic manufacturer and in a chicken processing plant without pay. The companies each paid a discounted rate for these individuals, but DARP and CAAIR pocketed the stipends.
“Those who are injured on the job are threatened with jail to coerce them into continuing to toil; those who are unable to work are actually jailed,” according to the complaint. “The ever-present fear of incarceration ensures CAAIR’s residents report to work despite physical injuries and sicknesses that would otherwise prevent them from working.”
One of the plaintiffs claimed he was sent to collect dead chickens at a processing plant and throw them into a pile of rotting carcasses. Others were forced to hang chickens on shackles as their feces flew all about the facility, routinely landing in the workers’ mouths and on their faces.
Mark Fochtman entered the Washington County Drug Court in Arkansas. A judge ordered him to rehab, stating he was to get addiction treatment at CAAIR. Instead, the man worked 45-hour weeks for Simmons Food processing plant primarily collecting dead chickens. “On a typical day I collected over 100 dead birds,” Fochtman wrote in a court affidavit. “That chicken house was full of thousands of decaying and rotting chickens covered in maggots.”
After his time at Simmons, Fochtman was transferred to DARP and made to work 60-hour weeks on the production line of Hendren Plastics. “The environment was very caustic working around melted plastics, and there was a high rate of injury among the employees,” Fochtman said. Because they were prohibited from using their cell phones, those in the program were unable to file complaints.
This class action is the third in recent weeks following an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting which discovered courts all across the United States are shipping addicts off to work programs that provide no help whatsoever in their recovery but, rather, exist to serve private companies.
The lawsuit alleges both programs violate the Arkansas Constitution, which prohibits unpaid labor, and claims they also violate the state labor law which stipulates employees must be paid minimum wage and any overtime pay due. It is seeking unpaid wages, overtime pay and other damages. Two previous lawsuits filed claim the conditions under which these individuals were employed constitutes as human trafficking.
Janet Wilkerson, the CEO of CAAIR, stated the program plans to “testify to the good work CAAIR has accomplished in changing lives,” while Donny Epp, a spokesman for Simmons Foods, said, “the claims by former CAAIR participants of their experiences are inconsistent with Simmons’ operational policies and core values.”
“I’m very sorry that there are people that look at what we do in that way,” said DARP founder Raymond Jones. “We’ll just have to dig in and tell our side of the story and that’s what we’ll do.”