WORK FREE OR GO TO JAIL: That was the deal for some sent to this bottling plant by a drug rehab program.

Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, continues to uncover shocking  abuses in the name of criminal justice reform.

Reveal broke the stories about Oklahoma and Arkansas work camps stocked with drug court defendants who could avoid prison by working for free, including for Simmons Foods and Hendren Plastics in Arkansas. The companies paid the equivalent of at least minimum wage, but the money went to the operators of the rehabilitation programs, not the workers.


Now Reveal is reporting on an Oklahoma judge hailed as a criminal justice reformer for starting a rural drug court.

Retired Oklahoma Judge Thomas Landrith is hailed as a hero of criminal justice reform.

He started the first rural drug court in the nation and has reaped awards for sending defendants to treatment rather than prison. Most judges in the state model their drug courts after his.

But Landrith also is involved in a more sinister byproduct of criminal justice reform.

Nearly a decade ago, Landrith started his own rehab work camp where defendants must work full time for free at a local Coca-Cola bottling plant and other companies, under threat of prison if they don’t comply. They are required to say they’re unemployed and turn over their food stamps to the program, which state regulators say is fraud. And on their days off, some worked for free mowing Landrith’s lawn and doing yard work around his property.

“It’s a joke, that’s all it is,” said Justin Manion, who was sent to Southern Oklahoma Addiction Recovery – also known as SOAR – by a judge this year. “It’s a shitty place.”

There’s much more. This quote from Landrith sends a shiver.


“Labor conquers all.”

He and others defend their use of free labor as a good deal all around, even in the face of some suggestions the law doesn’t allow it.