When he was facing jail time in Oklahoma in 2016, Shane Norrid said he was told the only way to avoid prison was to go into a six-month drug treatment program.
He agreed but said that instead of getting the help he expected, he found himself living in a dorm run by a treatment center and working for months without pay at Hendren Plastics Inc., a small rotational molder in Gravette, Ark.
When he wasn't working in the factory five or six days a week — and having to rely on the treatment agency for transportation — Norrid said he was confined to the dorm, which had an infestation of bed bugs and little treatment options.
"I was told I would avoid prison and that I would get treatment to help change my life, but I saw almost as soon as I got there that this program wasn't what I expected treatment to be," he said.
Norrid's story and similar accounts from other workers come from two lawsuits filed in Oklahoma and Arkansas in recent weeks.
Both lawsuits name Hendren Plastics as one of several defendants, along with the treatment agencies and other manufacturers, although Hendren sharply disputes the central claim that it got labor for nothing.
It said it paid the treatment programs as its contract required but was not aware what happened beyond that.
Still, a Nov. 1 lawsuit by the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union argues that the program failed participants, calling it a "human trafficking and forced labor" scheme that provided labor for welding companies, chicken processing plants and other manufacturers, including Hendren.
ACLU said workers "were made to perform thousands of hours of uncompensated labor for the for-profit businesses and individuals" and given little real drug treatment.
"Oklahomans dealing with addiction deserve quality treatment, but instead, victims of this scheme found themselves forced to work without pay and live in inhumane conditions," said Brady Henderson, ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director, in a statement.