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State judge benefited from labor sentences

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.

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

Landrith started his own rehab work camp where defendants must work full-time for free at a Coca-Cola bottling plant and other companies, under threat of prison. They are required to say they're unemployed and turn over their food stamps to the program, which state regulators say is fraud. Some of them even work on Landrith's yard  for free.

"It was the worst experience of my life," said Cody Evans, a former participant at Southern Oklahoma Addiction Recovery  also known as SOAR. "I'd rather go to prison."

It's the latest discovery in an ongoing investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting into rehab programs across the country that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry.

Coca-Cola prohibits forced labor at its independent bottling plants. In response to Reveal's reporting, the Ada Coca-Cola Bottling Co. said it would suspend use of the program.

"We take the concerns that have been raised seriously," the company said in a statement. "We have participated in the SOAR program because of the good we have seen it can do for people in our community and are hopeful we can work with SOAR to revise the terms of the program."

The Lawton Constitution

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