State Senator's Use of Drug Court Defendants Questioned

Update: State Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren announced Tuesday that his company has parted ways with a drug rehabilitation program after accusations that workers provided by the nonprofit were not being paid.  

A lawsuit filed in Benton County alleges Hendren Plastics and other companies conspired with the drug and alcohol recovery program to use clients as unpaid labor. Senator Hendren, President of Hendren Plastics, says the company did pay wages for these employees, but that pulling out of the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program was a necessary business decision. 

Original story: 

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Times) -- Reveal, the website of the Center for Investigative Reporting, has expanded its reporting on the use of drug court defendants as unpaid laborers at the plastics manufacturing company headed by Sen. Jim Hendren, the Republican majority leader.

The Arkansas Times reported over the weekend Hendren's company was named as a defendant in a lawsuit by workers unpaid for work while assigned to nonprofit rehabilitation agencies by drug courts. Hendren said he paid the going rate for the workers to a nonprofit, the Drug Alcohol and Recovery Program (DARP), which oversees the drug rehabilitation program to which the men were sentenced as an alternative to jail. He told us in an e-mail message:

I’ve not seen or received anything about a lawsuit. I am proud of the work Hendren Plastics has done to try to give kids in drug rehab programs a second chance. While they are not employees of our company we pay the program for every hour they work consistent with all state and federal laws just as we do our other employees. We have also hired some to become full time employees upon completion of the program. It has been rewarding to see some of these kids turn their lives around.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has been highlighting the diversion of drug court defendants to work programs in Oklahoma and Arkansas, particularly in the poultry industry. The articles raise a number of questions, heavily focused on poultry industry labor, including the extent of rehabilitation offered; constitutional prohibitions against unpaid labor; failure to pay job injury benefits to the workers, and poor working conditions.

The suit last week by two plaintiffs was the first to mention Hendren Plastics. Said Reveal:

The unpaid work may violate state labor laws and the 13th Amendment ban on slavery, according to legal experts. Since Reveal’s investigation, CAAIR [Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery] has become the subject of two other class-action lawsuits and three government investigations. CAAIR is modeled after DARP.

Reveal's article says workers have told it that Hendren Plastics has employed as many as 20 people from DARP at one time.

You can click here to read the full story from Reveal. 

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