Drug Rehab Clients Allegedly Forced To Work For Arkansas Politician's Company

By Kelly Burch 11/06/17

Drug rehab clients have filed a lawsuit against the politician's plastic company for unpaid wages. 

Arkansas State Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren
Arkansas State Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren Photo via YouTube

Ever since a shocking investigation by Reveal News detailed a reported scheme that used rehab clients for forced labor, more revelations have cropped up. 

A new report by Reveal, of the The Center for Investigative Reporting, alleges that one of Arkansas' top politicians, State Senate Majority Leader Jim Hendren, owns a company that benefits from the free labor of individuals sent to court-appointed drug rehabilitation programs that force participants to work for free. 

Hendren Plastics allegedly used workers from Drug and Alcohol Recovery Program (DARP), a rehab center that is meant to keep drug offenders out of prison. Investigative reporting by Reveal found that people in the program work at various factories while DARP keeps their wages. After six months of working, program participants are eligible for a $500 gift. If they quit the program, they can face jail time. 

Hendren Plastics is now a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the people who worked at the company and never received their wages. However, Senator Hendren told The Arkansas Times that he stands behind his company’s involvement with DARP.

“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,” he said. Unfortunately, according to the workers, they never received those wages. 

Hendren claims that some people in the program, which takes offenders from Arkansas and Oklahoma, have gone on to traditional employment with Hendren Plastics. “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,” he said. 

Employees who worked at Hendren Plastics during their time with DARP were not so enthusiastic about the program, however. “The environment was very caustic working around melted plastics,” former DARP participant Mark Fochtman said in a court affidavit. “Because of the work environment, the turnover rate during my time was high.”

Fochtman, from Arkansas, said that people were afraid that if they stopped working, they would be jailed. “Because of these threats, myself and other residents worked through sickness and injury to avoid being sent to prison,” he said in the affidavit. 

Another Hendren employee, Dylan Willis, said that he was regularly burned by hot plastic, but that supervisors at DARP brushed off his injuries as "cosmetic."  “They just gave me some Neosporin and told me I’d be all right,” Willis said.

Word of Hendren Plastics’ involvement with DARP comes after Reveal reported on the use of unpaid labor supplied by programs that are supposed to be focused on drug treatment and recovery.

As a result of the report, program participants have filed lawsuits against DARP and another program, Christian Alcoholics & Addicts in Recovery (CAAIR), alleging that the programs violated the 13th amendment’s ban on slave labor. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.