The Official Newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock

Governor calls faith leaders to prison re-entry summit

Catholics, other denominations discuss transition for returning citizens, foster care

Published: August 13, 2015   
Aprille Hanson
Tom Navin, the Diocese of Little Rock’s director of social action and prison ministry, stands in front of the Pulaski County Jail Aug. 7. He is involved with Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s Aug. 25-26 faith summit.

When an inmate is released from prison, he or she is given $100 and a bus ticket.

Rebuilding their life by finding a job when many won’t hire felons, finding housing at apartments that won’t rent to felons and even getting their children back who have been staying in foster care are not easy tasks.

For many, all the closed doors are just a different kind of prison.

“Let’s say a guy comes out and during that time, he’s lost his license, it’s expired ... Let’s just say he’s driving his brother’s car to go to the doctor he gets pulled over because the tail light is out. All of the sudden, there’s a warrant for his arrest because of an expired license,” said Tom Navin, the Diocese of Little Rock director of social action and prison ministry. “When an inmate is released, let’s say he’s on some (anti-)psychotic drug, they don’t give him drugs to go. Worse than that, they don’t give him a prescription … that’s just our state system. When he gets out he has to find a psychiatrist and he doesn’t have any money except that $100 and the psychiatrist never prescribes drugs on the first visit. So then he has to have a second visit and sometimes it can be a month before you get into somebody’s office … Who wants a schizophrenic guy on the street for several months without drugs? Those are just examples of how tough it can be.”

In order to open the public’s eyes to the gaps in the system when it comes to foster care and prison re-entry, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a faith summit Aug. 25-26 at the Marriott Hotel in Little Rock called “The Governor’s Restore Hope Summit: A Call to Action for Faith Leaders on Foster Care and Prison Re-Entry.”

The two-day event is free and open to the public upon registration. It will include workshops with speakers from state agencies, faith ministries and Hutchinson, and a sold-out reception at the Governor’s Mansion Aug. 25.

In a statement to Arkansas Catholic, Gov. Hutchinson said, “The Catholic Church and Catholic Charities of Arkansas, in particular, have had a laudable history of serving their neighbors, from medical and addiction care to adoption and prison ministries. I am now asking for their help, with others, to provide additional foster families and mentors to our kids and to help prisoners leaving incarceration to rebuild their lives. Arkansans work best when we work together, and I am confident that we can make a positive difference in these areas.”

Leaders from multiple faiths, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim, have been involved in organizing and spreading the word about the faith summit.

Navin has been representing the Catholic Church, reaching out to priests and parishes to let them know about the summit.

The first day (1 p.m. to 5 p.m.) will focus on prison re-entry or “returning citizens” to society. The second day (8 a.m. to noon) will focus on foster care, which Navin added go hand in hand.

“A high percentage of foster children are children of the incarcerated,” Navin said. “I compliment (the governor) for blending” these issues.

Hutchinson released statistics related to the summit, including:

  • There are about 4,400 children in foster care in Arkansas, but only 2,500 approved beds.
  • This year, about 6,000 inmates will leave prison and face a 47-percent unemployment rate for ex-prisoners.

What is key for inmates upon their return to society is a strong mentor who can help them adjust to prevent them from being a part of the 42 percent that are sent back to prison within three years, Navin said.

“We find that people who have family or who have been visited or have a supportive relationship, they have the best chance of staying out and getting a job,” Navin said, adding that there is no life skills training, from filling out job applications to access to computers, while in Arkansas prisons. While returning citizens are supposed to have their GED upon release, Navin said it’s often not the case.

This is where the churches should come in, Navin said. This concept of churches adopting an inmate will be discussed at the summit. As an example, Navin said a pastor can suggest to a group of parishioners or a faith group about visiting a prisoner who has been sent to a pre-release unit.

Once the inmate is released, a group could make sure he or she has transportation to a doctor or knows what clothes to wear for an interview, “not buy them, just make sure he or she gets the right stuff,” Navin added. “The biggest support is going to be moral.”

Navin admitted that fear is “a big problem” or deterrent for people to mentor to inmates, but if someone tries it and is uncomfortable, “they can stop.”

“You meet before they get out. Learn a little about them, their family. You’re going to find out you have a lot in common with them,” in many cases, Navin said.  

The former inmate would not necessarily be Catholic.

“It would be my thought that we just try to help the guy out as best we can. If our behavior influences him to want to explore Catholicism that’s fine,” Navin said. “If he’s a Christian, we want him to be a better Christian; if he’s Muslim, we want him to be a better Muslim. Whatever their situation is, that should be our attitude.”

Summit registration is currently full, but a waiting list is available at Those who cannot attend can contact Navin at to have him come a parish to speak about how an individual or church can get involved in mentoring an inmate.

“This isn’t going to solve all the problems, but hopefully it’ll put everybody on a better track,” Navin said.

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