Did y’all know Herschel Walker is an advocate for felon rehabilitation? It’s possibly the only noble thing the U.S. Senate candidate in Georgia campaigns on. He’s said he wants to make sure that once a convicted felon has served their time, they’ve learned skills and trades that will help them thrive on the outside and cut down on chances of recidivism.
“If someone comes out of prison, they should have incentives set up that the person has learned a trade, and you give an incentive for a company to hire him so he can make a living for himself,” Walker said in August, according to the Associated Press.
Wow, Walker actually said something—decent, amirite?
Welp, it’s too bad he owns a company that might be benefitting from what essentially sounds like unpaid prison labor.
It’s not possible to quantify any financial gains Walker might have gleaned over the years from undervalued labor. But some lawyers have derided the operation in question, Oklahoma-based Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery Inc., as a residential “work camp” that profits from a “vulnerable workforce under the guise of providing alcohol and drug counseling and rehabilitation services.”
CAAIR, as it is commonly known, began more than a decade ago sending residents to work at Simmons Foods Inc., a processing giant that Walker touts as a principal partner and supplier to his distributorship, Renaissance Man Food Services. State judges assigned convicted offenders to CAAIR, giving them a choice between the residential program and its requirements or serving time in conventional jails or prisons. Simmons would then contract with CAAIR for labor at its plants; CAAIR program participants were not paid.
We’ve reported on Walker’s business, Renaissance Man Food Services, before, and about how Walker embellishes his business success much like he embellishes how much his Walmart toy section-a** police badge legitimizes his claim of working with law enforcement. But this isn’t about that. This is about how the man who purports himself to be an advocate for felons possibly benefitting from the free labor of felons who might not be getting anything out of the program besides a sore back.
To be clear, nothing the CAAIR program is doing is illegal, but this is a question of ethics and whether the program is more about getting felons to work for free than it is about helping them gain life skills.
“If you’re working full-time in a chicken facility, you don’t have enough hours in the day to complete a full program,” said Jillian Snider, a former New York City police officer who currently works as a policy director for the criminal justice and civil liberties program at R Street.
Snider explained to AP that “talking to professional counselors” and “being set up with real educational advancement opportunities and skills training” must be part of any effective program that claims to benefit felons.
“There’s a lot more components than working 12 hours a day cleaning chickens,” she said.
Not only that, but a pending federal lawsuit against CAAIR and Simmons claims some participants were “pressured to work when injured, compelled to attend religious services, and threatened with imprisonment if their work was unsatisfactory,” AP reported.
CAAIR described its services as “a combination of work therapy and spiritual and religious counseling,” according to court filings, but plaintiffs say the program did not always provide the rehabilitative or psychiatric treatment to participants it claimed it did.
More from AP:
The “Admission Agreement” promises a residential “program of recovery” including “individual and group counseling, nourishing foods (and) constructive physical activity which includes work training at a job site,” along with the requirement of “working at a designated job site.” The documents do not name any prospective companies, describe any training participants would receive or detail any labor they would perform.
The agreement included a behavioral code, with the threat of dismissal.
“Minor rules violations” included “failure to maintain a positive attitude,” “failure to do assigned chores,” “not shaving, showering and brushing your teeth every day,” “not being a team player” and “failure to attend … daily meetings,” including “Bible study … 12-step meetings … small group.”
Among the major violations: “theft,” “bringing or using drugs or alcohol,” “insubordination,” “having money or credit cards on the premises,” “failure to maintain your position at your assigned work provider,” “horseplay or wrestling at any time,” and “fraternizing with any females.”
How dedicated to helping felons could this program actually be if participants can be dismissed for something as mundane as “failure to maintain a positive attitude” or taking to “females?” (Pretty sure they’re called “women” by the way.) It’s also telling that participants who may not be of the Christian faith are being forced to attend bible study. Sounds more like religious indoctrination than actual counseling, but whatever.
It’s also worth mentioning that CAAIR claimed participants were “free to leave (the program) at any time,” but documents said leaving could result in “consequences from the criminal justice system for early departure.” So, no, participants weren’t really “free to leave.” That’s like saying you’re free to jump off a cliff, just know there are jagged rocks down there.
Of course, you can expect that none of this will hurt Walker’s reputation with his constituents. It’s not like the humane treatment of felons is high on the MAGA priority list.
But it should be a priority for Walker if he’s going to claim to advocate for them.
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