The Arkansas House of Representatives honored Sevier County Sheriff Robert Gentry and jail administrator Chris Wolcott with a resolution citing the success of the residential substance abuse treatment program at the jail. The resolution was read on the House floor on March 6, while Gentry, Wolcott, family, friends, county officials and volunteers at the jail observed from the VIP area overseeing the House floor. The resolution was adopted unanimously by House members.
“It was a great honor,” Gentry said. “It’s not everyday some old country boy from south Arkansas gets to sit in the VIP section and be honored for something you’ve done or been a part of.”
“It was exciting,” Wolcott said. “I felt like a fish out of water; I was outside my comfort zone.”
Both Gentry and Wolcott agreed that while their names were on the resolution, all of the jail’s many volunteers deserved their names to be on it as well.
“The program wouldn’t be possible without the community coming together and volunteering,” Gentry said. “As a whole, that's why it works. If it was just Chris and I doing it, it would flop.”
The resolution states that while substance abuse is a problem across the country, the Sevier County Jail is helping those in need, giving inmates the opportunity to be rehabilitated, helping them prepare for a “productive life after incarceration.”
The resolution states that the program was started at the jail in August of 2017 and has since graduated 75 students while having a 70 percent success rate. The resolution also cited the fact that the jail had been able to decrease physical altercations from 67 the year prior to the program’s inception, to just 12 the year after.
The resolution ends with: “Whereas, participants are taught discipline and life skills and receive vocational training; and Whereas, Sheriff Robert Gentry and Jail Administrator Chris Wolcott have dedicated countless hours to making the program a success; and Whereas the graduates and members of the program have devoted themselves to achieving a better life for themselves and those around them, now therefore be it resolved by the House of Representatives of the ninety-second General Assembly of the the State of Arkansas: that the House of Representatives acknowledge the members and leaders of the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program at the Sevier County Jail.”
Inmates in the jail that participate in the program are required to be a part of NA or AA, as well as attend anger management, career development and adult education classes. Electives include church attendance, Celebrate Recovery, art, and parenting.
“They’ve got a full workload when they’re in here for 90 days,” Wolcott said, noting that many of them have job duties that include cooking, mowing, laundry, floors and small maintenance projects assigned to them by jail staff.
He said that the inmates had built the jail’s rec yard for $10,000, the cost of supplies, saving the jail as much as $30,000.
The jail program suspends an inmates sentence and gives them the opportunity to be out in 90 days, though they will be required to drug test and meet other eligibility requirements for the length of what would normally be time incarcerated. Gentry said that there are former inmates in the program that will be forced to adhere to the program standards for as many as 20 years, in accordance to their suspended sentences.
“We have people in the program ranging from three years to 20 years suspended,” Gentry said. “We have one out on a very long sentence that has excelled was well as anybody. He knows that one little mess up and he’s gone.
Gentry said that he and jail staff found that a lot of these people that went through the program are repeat offenders and never had anyone stand up beside them and say, “you’re worth something” outside of their immediate families.
“Every mom has that look of desperation and lack of hope,” Wolcott said. “We’re giving the family hope and the inmate hope.”
Prior to an inmate’s graduation, sheriff officials meet with the family of the inmate and give them the lowdown on aftercare and expectations. Oftentimes family members are hesitant to believe that the inmate is changed and don’t want them back in the home.
Gentry said that he had a mother who had two children go through the substance abuse program, come up to him after the last graduation, and tell him that for the first time in many years she was able to have all her children in her home without any drugs, fights or problems.
He said that they’ve also noticed that some graduates that have stumbled, seem more upset about having let down sheriff personnel more than they were concerned about themselves. Gentry said that they expect that the released inmates will make mistakes.
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “We gave you the tools to go forward.”
Wolcott said that sometimes a graduate of the program, through the education they receive, will know they can’t make it outside the jailhouse walls and that jail staff has developed relationships with many long-term treatment facilities that will take the more troubled addicts in.
“It’s awfully easy to kick them down the road and keep kicking them down the system but I think this way is better for the community,” Gentry said, again praising the community of volunteers who, when they first learned of the program the then first-term sheriff wanted to implement, came forward en masse.
Wolcott said that the program also saves the community money as crime is down in both the city of De Queen and in Sevier County. He noted that the jail is no longer fully booked and that head counts are down from the 70s to the 50s.
“What we started is keeping people from coming back to jail,” Wolcott said.
“Our goal is to break that chain, break that cycle so the people going through that program now succeed,” Gentry said.