One of Arkansas’ top lawmakers says he has severed ties with a drug rehab program that forced participants to work for free in his plastics factory, the Associated Press reported today.
State Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren had used workers from the Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program to partially staff Hendren Plastics, the business he founded with his father, Kim, who is also a state representative.
Former participants who were court-ordered into the program told Reveal that they worked full time without pay at Hendren Plastics, making dock floats that are sold at The Home Depot and Walmart. Hendren Plastics paid DARP for the work.
According to the AP, Hendren said his company ended its relationship with DARP after a lawsuit filed last week accused DARP and private companies of violating laws banning free labor.
The lawsuit came in response to an investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting showing how drug rehabilitation centers across the country have become lucrative work camps for private industry. Three class-action lawsuits have been filed and series of government investigations have been launched since the story published.
At DARP, defendants worked for free under threat of prison. If they got hurt on the job, workers said they often were kicked out and sent to prison.
Participants told Reveal that about 20 workers from DARP worked at Hendren’s company at any given time. In 2011, the company had about 50 employees, according to a news report.
Hendren, a Republican, has called job creation his No. 1 priority in office. According to the AP, Hendren said his company paid $9.25 an hour plus overtime to the rehab program for the employees’ work but “didn’t know the details of the agreement between the nonprofit and the participants.”
In an interview with the KUAR radio station in Little Rock, Hendren said he thought the program was interesting “because folks deserve a second chance, especially on nonviolent offenses, rather than taxpayers paying for them to sit in a prison cell.”
“Despite the fact that I see some value trying to help these kids get their lives turned around, it’s not worth the damage that can be caused to the company’s reputation when a couple of them go and get an attorney and start making unfounded charges,” he said.