Reports of abuse from Henry’s Turkey Service, a meat processing plant in Iowa, remind us that the days of cruelty against the mentally ill are not behind us.
A jury ruled on Wednesday that the plant owes $240 million to some 32 mentally disabled workers for years of abuse and neglect.
Workers were reportedly housed in century-old school buildings with broken broilers and denied access to disability services. For over 15 years they were apparently paid less than minimum wage.
When the men were punished for violating company rules, “caretakers” allegedly took them to an empty garage and battered them. Some were supposedly handcuffed to their beds at night, while others were forced to eat hot peppers for the entertainment of supervisors.
Despite the U.S. Department of Labor’s knowledge of this and the testimony of an Iowa Department of Human Services social worker, the plant remained open and essentially functioned as an unlicensed care facility. After a Des Moines Register investigation the factory was closed in 2009, though owner Kenneth Henry has yet to comply with the Department of Labor’s penalties.
“The bunkhouse belonged to the city,” Henry's attorney David Scieszinski said. “The landlord is responsible for the condition of the facility they rent out to a tenant. The city was responsible to maintain the bunkhouse to a habitable condition. Any failure was on their part.”
The Iowa Attorney General's Office has declined to prosecute anyone responsible for the abuse, saying it is unlikely that criminal charges could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.