Restore Hope Arkansas is trying to reduce local recidivism rates, or the rate at which offenders return to jail, local officials learned on Thursday.

Paul Chapman, executive director for Restore Hope Arkansas Inc., provided the Sebastian County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee an update about the nonprofit enterprise during the committee's meeting Thursday. Restore Hope has multiple goals, including reducing the rate of incarceration in the state, decreasing recidivism and reducing the number of children entering the Arkansas foster care system.

Chapman briefed those present on what the organization started doing just over a year ago.

"We have about 700 to 800 individuals that would come from the penitentiary back to the community every year, and of that group that comes back, 700 to 800, 58 percent will wind up back in prison within three years," Chapman said. "So the recidivism rate for the people that are coming back from prison to the community is 58 percent. So what we thought is we can try to lower that."

Restore Hope took funding and trained some case managers, Chapman said. The organization works with the Arkansas Department of Correction and Arkansas Community Correction, who identify those who are coming back to the community. Restore Hope then meets with them.

"We offer them help, and if they want it, then we open a case, and we start working some pretty immediate need things, vital documents," Chapman said.

From there, Restore Hope starts moving with that person into re-entry planning.

"So the individuals come from prison where we meet them, we open a case, we start communicating that back to the parole probation office here on Garrison (Avenue in Fort Smith)," Chapman said. "We have leased some space and have a collaborative work environment there where the ACC re-entry officer is there, Goodwill is there, Harbor House has three or four recovery coaches there, Sebastian County Adult Ed. is there. We just added last month ... Karen (Phillips) is a housing expert. She is housed over there."

Chapman said he thinks Restore Hope is a couple of weeks away from having Go Ye Employment Services on site as well.

"They're going to start a transitional employment program with the idea that we can actually get the individual the first job and work with them with a recovery coach and some other wraparound services so that we're always aiming for the next job," Chapman said. "So it's just any old job right now, with the idea that we can actually get you kind of on a career track."

Chapman said at the time Restore Hope has offices for re-entry in Fort Smith, Van Buren, Little Rock/North Little Rock, Conway, Hot Springs, Jonesboro, Searcy and Pine Bluff.

From March 2017 to May 2018, Restore Hope identified and were able to visit 613 people in prison returning to Sebastian, Crawford, White, Garland, Pulaski and Franklin counties, Chapman said. Of that number, 542 cases were opened. An additional 144 connections were given directly to the organization by ACC. Restore Hope was able to connect 272 people to a recovery coach.  

Restore Hope is currently collecting data, Chapman said.

"To hit the metrics, you need three years worth of data, but our indicators are right now if someone would do four months of engagement with a recovery coach, they'd have full-time employment, which is only 50 percent for a parolee or a probationer right now," Chapman said. "But everyone that does at least four months with a recovery coach at the time that we're pulling our data, 100 percent full-time employment. They're all legal, they're paying their fees and fines."

Chapman said the relapse rate for these people is also lower.