Arkansas Senator Ends Contract With Rehab Program After Labor Allegations

Oct 31, 2017

File photo of Arkansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR News

The Republican leader of the Arkansas Senate says his company is cutting ties with a drug rehabilitation program amid reports that workers provided by the nonprofit were not getting paid. In an interview with KUAR News, Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren denied any wrongdoing by his company.

The accusations were detailed by news outlet Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting as part of a larger series looking at questionable practices by some rehab programs. On Tuesday a story was published by reporters Amy Julia Harris and Shoshana Walker saying Hendren’s company in northwest Arkansas relied on the workers who weren’t getting any monetary compensation.

"The program is called Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program, DARP for short, and basically defendants were ordered into the program through numerous court and diversion programs and most of their time, rather than getting treatment, was spent working at for-profit companies, including Hendren Plastics, where they were working full-time jobs for free making dock floats for the company," Walker said.

Those plastic docks and boat slips were then sold at major retailers like Home Depot and Wal-Mart, the report said. As part of their reporting, Harris says they spoke with drug defendants who said they felt trapped.

"We talked to a lot of defendants who went through the DARP program who said that work sort of took priority over everything else and said that they had to work otherwise they could get sent to prison. We talked to numerous defendants who said that if they were hurt on the job, that if they couldn’t work anymore, that they did risk being incarcerated."

Within hours of the report being published on Reveal’s website, Hendren said his company was terminating its agreement with the DARP program. One day earlier, on Monday, he says he was served with court documents in a lawsuit filed in Benton County accusing the program of conspiring with businesses to use participants as free labor.

"When I read the allegations of the lawsuit it was somewhat frustrating to hear such things said about the company, so now we have to defend things that clearly are inaccurate. It damages the reputation of our business, and so it’s a business decision," Hendren said on cancelling the contract with DARP. "It’s unfortunate because we really began this program with the hope that we could help some kids find a way to get employment and job skills rather than sitting in prison." 

In the interview with KUAR News, Hendren said his company paid the rehabilitation program for each hour worked by participants, which initially was $9 per hour and later increased to $9.25, along with any overtime accrued.

"We were meticulous in our record keeping. The participants kept time cards and we paid for every hour that they worked. The program was paid for every hour that they worked in accordance with the agreement," Hendren said. Whether the rehabilitation program then paid participants, he said, would be a question for leaders of the program.