Some Defend Controversial OK Work Camp

Ex-participants filed suit, charging that Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery violates labor laws, but The Tulsa County drug court says it is the most effective rehab center available.

The controversial Christian Alcoholics and Addicts In Recovery (CAAIR) in Oklahoma describes itself as a long-term addiction recovery program for men. It is not a licensed treatment center. It does not accept people with serious mental or physical problems or with histories of violence or sex crimes. CAAIR emphasizes a structured environment, the 12-step regime of the Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous organizations, and Bible study, the Tulsa World reports. Most CAAIR participants are low-level criminal offenders placed there by Oklahoma drug courts. In many cases, offenders have violated the conditions of their drug court sentences and are given the choice between CAAIR and incarceration.

CAAIR does not charge its “clients” but it does require them to work, usually at nearby businesses, government entities and nonprofit agencies. The clients are not paid, but CAAIR is. Three former clients filed a federal class-action lawsuit against CAAIR, alleging violations of state and federal labor laws, breach of contract, fraud, civil rights violations, human trafficking and personal enrichment. The suit is connected to stories by the news organization Reveal, which described CAAIR as a forced labor camp that exploits its clients while offering little to help them overcome addiction. “It’s got to be illegal,” said Michael Wilburn, a former client. Others who have gone through the CAAIR program or have sent people to CAAIR fiercely defend it. Tulsa County’s drug court administrators say it is the most effective rehabilitation center at their disposal. A public defender from western Oklahoma says state-run programs “are basically worthless with very minimal success rates. … Compared to the other programs available, CAAIR has the best success rate, bar none.” Robert Bissell, who graduated from the program 18 months ago, says CAAIR turned his life around.