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.”
"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.