Senator ends company's contract with drug rehabilitation program

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
This article was published November 1, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- The top Republican in the Arkansas Senate said Tuesday that his company terminated its agreement with a drug rehabilitation program after accusations workers provided by the nonprofit were unpaid.

Republican Sen. Jim Hendren said his company, Hendren Plastics, terminated the agreement with the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program following a lawsuit filed in Benton County that accused the program of conspiring with Hendren Plastics, Simmons Foods and others to use the clients as free labor.

"I just stopped it this week when I saw some of the allegations and it's one of those issues where a company has to make business decisions," said Hendren, who is the Senate majority leader and Gov. Asa Hutchinson's nephew. "And the company is going to get put through the wringer for trying to help these kids -- you just can't afford to continue to do it. So I feel bad for some of the kids that I think we had an opportunity to help, but I think you'll see a lot of companies step out of the program."

Hendren said his company had paid $9.25 an hour plus overtime for the employees' work through the program. However, he said he wasn't privy to details of the agreement between the nonprofit and the participants.

The lawsuit, filed last week, is among several filed after nonprofit news outlet Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting published a story exposing the questionable practices of some court-ordered diversion programs, including DARP and Oklahoma-based Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery. It was filed by a program participant who worked at a Simmons poultry plant and later Hendren Plastics and another participant who worked at a Simmons pet food plant.

"Instead of receiving counseling and treatment ... plaintiffs were forced to work for various businesses in Arkansas performing demanding, dangerous manual labor for no pay," the lawsuit said.

A Simmons Foods spokesman told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the lawsuit's claims are inconsistent with company values and that several program participants have gone on to get permanent jobs at Simmons.

State Desk on 11/01/2017
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