By Eric Besson
A new Little Rock program paid for with federal tax dollars will connect former prison inmates with construction, restaurant and other high-demand jobs — and cover their minimum-wage paychecks for four months, officials said.
Mayor Mark Stodola has touted the $1.2 million Department of Labor grant as one way the capital city is addressing a surge in violence, in addition to ongoing efforts to fill Police Department vacancies, lobby for tighter state laws and better direct public assistance to dangerous neighborhoods.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports Arkansas’ recidivism rate is 53.3 percent, according to the state’s probation and parole department, meaning more than half of ex-inmates return to prison within three years of their release. Stodola has said Pulaski County receives an “inordinate” number of parolees compared with the rest of Arkansas.
The Labor Department in late June awarded $72.8 million to 32 programs focused on helping prisoners re-enter society. Little Rock was the only Arkansas city to receive money, and it was one of four programs to receive the lowest amount awarded, along with peers in Oklahoma City, north Georgia and southeast Pennsylvania.
Stodola highlighted so-called re-entry programs as part of his July 20 news conference that laid out the city’s short- and long-term plans to combat violence.
“Formerly incarcerated individuals face a number of barriers for re-entering society,” Stodola said. “They include criminal background checks, strained family relationships, trouble finding housing, just to name a few. Because of these barriers, there’s an increased potential for them to re-offend.”