American Rehab Part 6: Shadow Workforce

Dec 28, 2020

Thursday 12/31 8a: Reveal’s American Rehab series investigates drug rehab facilities that send people to work but don’t pay them. In this final chapter, we answer two of the biggest remaining questions.

Since beginning this series, listeners have asked if rehabs are allowed to do this. Can they make participants work without pay as long as they’re providing housing and treatment? Does the work pay for the therapy?

This question was raised by another cultish organization that recruited dropouts from the hippie movement and had them sew bedazzled designer jean jackets. The clothes became a Hollywood fashion trend, and the unpaid labor propelled a case all the way to the Supreme Court.

There’s one other question that has driven our reporting from the beginning. How big is this? How many work-based rehabs operate across the country? The federal government doesn’t track them, and no one knew how many were out there. So reporter Shoshona Walter spent a year counting them herself, and she learned that they’re all around us.

Finally, the coronavirus pandemic has made the opioid epidemic even more deadly. As one crisis slams into another, we look at how work-based rehabs are turning participants into unpaid essential workers.