University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students were able to hear firsthand of the state’s efforts to reduce criminal recidivism and foster care rates during a talk last week by Paul Chapman, executive director of Restore Hope.
Speaking in room 112 of the Boreham Library, Chapman outlined the dire situation Arkansas currently faces with “the two most pressing issues social issues in our state.” Arkansas has one of the fastest growing jail populations in the nation, having more than doubled its prison population from 2000-2014. This increase in incarcerations also leads to an increase in foster care populations across the state.
Sebastian County is a state leader in these dire metrics as the county with the second-highest incarcerated population and the higher foster care population.
In response to this, Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a Restore Hope Summit in 2015, where Chapman and others prepared a report outlining a model for collaboration between agencies at a community level to tackle these issues head-on. As a result, Hutchinson supported the creation of the nonprofit Restore Hope with Chapman as its head.
“These are complex issues. There’s no ‘just’ answer. We’re not ‘just’ going to do this and shazam, it’s fixed,” Chapman said. “These are individuals with needs.”
“And every step of the way, we have systems and systems. There’s law enforcement, county governments, state governments, and service providers,” he continued. “And the reason that we have this execution gap is because we don’t have an ability for these systems to come together and declare a goal and work together.”
After appointing UAFS Chancellor Paul B. Beran as the chair of the Restore Hope Alliance of Sebastian County, the group declared the goal of decreasing recidivism by 10 percent in Sebastian County. To accomplish this effort, Restore Hope is utilizing a model centered on assessing the needs of the parolee prior to release from jail and coordinating their reentry to society through collaboration of various offices.
“Our goal is to give them every opportunity so that the only barrier between them and success is a choice – their choice,” Chapman said. “That’s our goal. And you’re going to have to do that through partnerships.”
The talk was part of the Policy Lion Series hosted by the UAFS chapter of the American Democracy Project. Following the talk, Chapman engaged in a question-and-answer session with students to help foster the civic engagement mindset that is at the core of ADP’s mission.
For more information about ADP, contact Dr. Williams Yamkam, assistant professor of political science and ADP advisor, at 479-788-7981 or Williams.firstname.lastname@example.org.