By Max Bryan
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.