In his latest column, Arkansas State Senator Keith Ingram announced plans by Governor Asa Hutchinson to call a conference to address two urgent needs in the state – recruiting more foster families and preparing inmates for life outside prison. The workshop is scheduled for August 25 and 26 in Little Rock.

Arkansas State Senator Keith Ingram was in Helena-West Helena last Wednesday to update the local Rotary Club on legislation that is expected to come before state lawmakers at the next legislative session.

Ingram, a Democrat, has represented District 24, which includes Phillips County, since 2012. Currently, he serves as State Senate Minority Leader. He served in the Arkansas House of Representatives representing District 53 from 2009.

He hails from West Memphis (Crittenden County) where he served as mayor of that city from 1987 to 1995.

The senator earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). His professional experience includes working for Razorback Concrete.

At the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, Ingram was assigned the duties as vice chair of the City, County and Local Affairs Committee. He also serves on the Public Health, Welfare and Labor, Efficiency and Legislative committees.

Each week, Ingram provides a regular newspaper column “State Capitol in Review.” The column appears on a semi-regular basis in The Helena World.

In his latest column, Ingram announced plans by Governor Asa Hutchinson to call a conference to address two urgent needs in the state – recruiting more foster families and preparing inmates for life outside prison. The workshop is scheduled for August 25 and 26 in Little Rock.

Ingram reported that the state Department of Human Services operates the foster care system. DHS, he says, lists about 4,400 needed placing in foster home but has accommodations available for only 2,500 spaces with approved families.

“The governor called the foster care situation ‘unacceptable’ and said it must be reformed,” Ingram stated in his column.

The workshop also will deal with the extremely high unemployment rate among those released from prison, which currently stands at about 47 percent. About 6,000 inmates are released from Arkansas prisons each year and most, according to Ingram, need help making a transition back into society. A high percentage of them, he added, return to a life of crime and wind up back in the prison system.

Ingram says the legislature earlier this year approved a package of measures proposed by Hutchinson to reduce prison and reduce the number of inmates committing new crimes and being sent back to prison. One of the measures created a 500-beds for a re-entry program.

“The governor said a 500-bed re-entry program is not sufficient when 6,000 inmates a year are being released,” noted Ingram.

Hutchinson, reports Ingram, plans to invite 5,000 religious faiths and organizations to participate in the conference. The session is being called, “”Restore Hope Summit: A Call to Action for Faith Leaders on Foster Care and Prison Re-entry.”

One of the objectives of the conference will be to remove bureaucratic obstacles that hinder religious organizations from being able to participate in social programs and carrying out their missions.

Ingram stressed that private donations will fund the summit and not state funds.

Also in his weekly column, Ingram reports that Arkansas completed the 2015 year with a surplus of $191.6 million. The state’s three major sources of revenue are sales taxes, individual income taxes and corporate income taxes, all of which increased over the 2014 fiscal year.