AP NEWS

Initiative to reduce Fort Smith recidivism sees success

September 2, 2018

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) — A state initiative to reduce recidivism in the Fort Smith region has yielded positive results in its first year, one official said.

Paul Chapman, executive director of Restore Hope Arkansas, said inmates returning to the Fort Smith area who are in the program have experienced success in areas like drug recovery, parole and employment. He said areas like these are positive indicators that may eventually point toward lower recidivism rates.

Restore Hope was formed in 2015 in response to the incarceration rate in Arkansas. The Arkansas prison population grew 29 percent from 2004-2015, according to the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Chapman said the state prison population from 2012-15 was the fastest-growing in the United States.

“We had these crises at the time — a very fast-growing prison population, and if you look at the growth curve in foster care, it mirrored the curve and the expansion of our prison beds,” he said.

Officials with Restore Hope in 2017 chose Fort Smith as one of the areas in Arkansas to enact the program. Chapman pointed to Fort Smith’s foster care rate, which exceeded 800 at the end of 2017, and the fact that about 800 former inmates return to the area each year from prison as reasons for choosing the region, the Southwest Times Record reported.

“If you look at some of the broader statistics, it speaks to the number of adults in the Fort Smith-metro area who are in trouble,” Chapman said. “They’re not only in trouble with court, but they’re largely underemployed or unemployed. They’re consuming large quantities of social services, so they’re expensive, and the services aren’t addressing their needs, so those outcomes weren’t there either.”

Restore Hope officials after the program was implemented for Fort Smith in July 2017 set meetings with 304 inmates who were about to return to the Fort Smith region, Chapman said. Out of that, 268 accepted help and opened an active case plan, and 153 have been connected with a recovery coach, he said.

Chapman said life coaches and other personnel work through with former inmates in areas like employment, substance abuse counseling, life planning and education through Restore Hope. He said these areas are crucial in reducing the recidivism rate of a community.

“We started with a re-entry program in which there was a gap, so we filled the gap by adding some re-entry programming by putting case managers inside prisons,” he said. “We identified people who were coming back to the Fort Smith-metro area, and we tried to gain access to them inside their prisons.”

Though Chapman said recidivism can only be measured over a three-year span, he said he has seen positive indicators from the first year, such as lower relapse rates and upholding parole requirements.

“Our mission is to reduce incarceration and the need for foster care,” Chapman said. We do that by taking a collective impact approach, or a system approach at a local level, so we help a local community understand the impact that incarceration and child welfare issues are having, and then build collaborative plans to address those issues.”

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Information from: Southwest Times Record, http://www.swtimes.com/

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