Local leaders converged in Fort Smith for the Sebastian County Restore Hope Alliance Board kickoff reception on Wednesday. 

Officials met at the Blue Lion at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith (UAFS) Downtown to hear about the Restore Hope Alliance Board of Sebastian County. The alliance is a part of Restore Hope Arkansas Inc., a nonprofit enterprise designed to, among other functions, reduce the rate of incarceration in the state, decrease recidivism and reduce the number of children entering the Arkansas foster care system.

Restore Hope Executive Director Paul Chapman outlined problems Sebastian County is facing with a PowerPoint presentation. He said Arkansas prisons are full and growing, and care cannot be provided for children who need it when they come into the Arkansas foster care system.

According to Chapman, Arkansas' sentenced prison population increased by 22 percent between 2012 and 2014. Arkansas corrections spending also increased from about $305.4 million in 2004 to about $512.2 million in 2015. 

In terms of Sebastian County, Chapman said several months ago, more than 650 people from Sebastian County were doing time in a state institution with an estimated cost of about $68 million. There are also more than 770 Sebastian County children in foster care. 

"There are 130,000 people in Sebastian County," Chapman said. "This number represents about one in 41 children in the county that are in foster care. That is so far an outlier in the state. There is not even a close second."

About 65 percent of all the children that come into foster care in Sebastian County must be placed outside the county because of an insufficient number of available foster homes in the county, Chapman said. 

Chapman stressed the importance of collaborative execution between employers, foundations, law enforcement and other organizations in the Sebastian County community to work toward improving community outcomes. This will be facilitated by the Restore Hope Alliance Board of Sebastian County.

"... We all know that if we were able to work together, to collaborate, to trust each other, then we could close the execution gap," Chapman said. 

Among those in attendance were State Rep. Charlotte Douglas, State Rep. Justin Boyd and State Rep. George McGill.