The following research project was funded by the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity’s Research Program. For a list of additional grant-funded research projects, go to IRE Research: Inquire. Reveal. Empower.
Jennifer Miller, Ph.D. Candidate, UALR Department of Criminal Justice
Doctoral candidate, Jennifer Miller of the UALR Department of Criminal Justice, conducted an exploratory analysis of Jefferson County, Arkansas, with emphasis on Pine Bluff, the county seat titled “Crime Bluff: Fact or Fiction.”
Miller is also undertaking an extension of this project titled, “Sentencing Disparities in Arkansas,” which is also her dissertation. Miller is examining how conflict theory can incorporate social disorganization theory’s standard control variables to explain sentencing disparities in violent felony convictions in the state of Arkansas from 2000 to 2009.
A summary of the exploratory analysis, “Crime Bluff: Fact or Fiction,” is available below.
“Crime Bluff: Fact or Fiction”
The exploratory analysis of Jefferson County, Arkansas and contiguous counties sought to determine the causal mechanisms that lead to disproportionately high rates of crime in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. This city, located in Jefferson County, has been listed in the top 10 most dangerous cities in the country many times since the 1990s, and interestingly, several correctional facilities are located in and around Pine Bluff. The racial population composition of Pine Bluff and Jefferson County is disproportionately black, with a population composed of 42.7 percent white individuals and 54.8 percent black individuals. This is a unique situation for traditionally minority populations.
As early as 2002, Arkansas had two of the most dangerous cities in which to live (Sperling 2013). The Little Rock-North Little Rock area was listed as one large city (population of greater than 500,000) and number five on the list due to high property crime rates, and Pine Bluff was number two on the worst small cities (population of less than 200,000) list due to high murder rates and having the ninth-highest robbery rate in the country (Sperling 2013). Then in 2012, Pine Bluff ranked seventh in the most dangerous cities for women in the country using the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report numbers on violent crimes (Ford 2012). It is now common for Arkansas residents to refer to Pine Bluff as “Crime Bluff.”
With the majority of citizens in Jefferson County (of which Pine Bluff is the county seat) being African American, the long-standing dangerous rankings have led to disparaging remarks in the media. For example, in 2013, the Police Chief Jeff Hubanks was quoted as saying, “The reality is, the little old white lady with the kitten on her lap is perfectly safe in this town. But if you are slinging dope on the east side, you are looking to pay with your life (Johnson 2013).” So, if the comparison is between a “little old white lady” and a drug dealer, that must mean all the drug dealers are black, right?
Being a black man aged 107 is not safe. On September 7, 2013, Pine Bluff police shot and killed a man during a domestic disturbance turned standoff (Karimi 2013). In the last three decades, approximately 16,000 people have moved out of Pine Bluff to escape the violence there that many blame on gang activity (Johnson 2013).
“Sentencing Disparities in Arkansas”
The purpose of this study is to add to the current literature regarding sentencing disparities in the American criminal justice system, but also to add to the knowledge of policy makers and administrators in the Arkansas criminal justice system specifically. Media portrayals often paint parts of Arkansas in an extremely negative light, while research is beginning to surface that contradicts these media portrayals (Miller and Berthelot working manuscript). It is very important to the residents of Arkansas and the criminal justice system to correct misconceptions regarding the state and to correct possible injustices before they can cause further harm.
The dissertation will be disseminated via university and departmental requirements for dissertations at a later date.
Both of the projects focus on racial and ethnic issues within the Arkansas criminal justice system and could influence legislation regarding the sentencing policies in the state of Arkansas. The general tenet of conflict theory that the racial majority will use their political power to control legislation and policy changes to maintain formal social control over minority populations. These studies could impact legislative sanctions that influence racial population variation and racial power dynamics within the criminal justice system in Arkansas.
Cite as follows:
Miller, Jennifer. “Crime Bluff: Fact or Fiction” Institute on Race and Ethnicity. University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity, 15 June 2014. Web. 20 Aug. 2014. <http://ualr.edu/race-ethnicity/2014/08/22/sentencing-disparities-in-arkansas/>.
The “Crime Bluff: Fact or Fiction” and “Sentencing Disparities in Arkansas” combined project was funded by the UALR Institute on Race and Ethnicity’s grant program.
The Institute on Race and Ethnicity at UALR was founded in July 2011. With a vision to make Arkansas the best state in the country for promoting and celebrating racial and ethnic diversity, the Institute conducts research, promotes scholarship and provides programs that address racial inequities. It does so by facilitating open and honest dialogue aimed at empowering communities and informing public policy to achieve more equitable outcomes.