Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform
The UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform was launched in September 2021 to advance racial equity, access to justice, and fairness in Arkansas and the region through academic legal research. The mission of the Center aligns with Bowen’s core values of access to justice, public service, and professionalism.
The Center will produce a body of research to further the mission of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the law school. Stakeholders throughout Arkansas and the region, including the legal and criminal justice communities, will have access to the Center’s work. Bowen’s capacity to produce community-engaged research will broaden since the Center centralizes and supports the community work and scholarship of current Bowen professors. Bowen professors have expertise in relevant areas such as prison reform, policing reform, cultural competency, anti-discrimination law, criminal procedure, fourth amendment law, constitutional law, and civil rights. The Center leverages the existing expertise of Bowen’s scholars and facilitates deeper engagement with the Arkansas community.
Additionally, the Center’s work and research will help professionally develop Bowen’s students and broaden Bowen’s racial justice curriculum. The Center capitalizes on student interest while creating career development opportunities for Bowen students. Each semester, a group of students will work with the Center on criminal justice and racial justice legal research. Two course focuses (and perhaps eventually Certificates) will be administered through the Center, and Bowen students interested in criminal justice and/or racial justice will be able to guide their curricular choices. Finally, students will have opportunities to serve the community through events and workshops.
The focus of the Center expands on Bowen’s record of criminal reform and racial justice research in Arkansas through the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project (the “Racial Disparities Project” or the “Project”). The Racial Disparities Project began in 2011 and has been an interdisciplinary collaboration between the law school, several UA Little Rock research departments, a 65-member Steering Committee (comprised of lawyers, judges, and other racially, ethnically, and gender diverse leaders throughout the state), community advocacy organizations focused on criminal justice, and other members of the Arkansas judiciary and legislature.
Professor Anastasia M. Boles, co-founder and co-director
Professor Boles joined the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law faculty in 2012. As a scholar, Boles examines the intersection between labor and employment law and legal issues involving race, age, gender, sexuality, disability, and class. She also examines the need for culturally proficient legal education and lawyering. She is the director of the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice Research Project, which completed a study in 2015 investigating the correlation between race and the sentence an Arkansas defendant receives in homicide cases. The data provided by the Project informed a 2019 amendment of Arkansas Model Jury Instruction (AMI) Crim. 2d 101(d) and AMI Civ. 103 to add language to better define bias, including racial bias, in verdicts and sentencing. In addition to juror education, both amendments can empower courts and attorneys to speak with potential jurors about racial bias in innovative ways.
Associate Dean andré douglas pond cummings, co-founder and co-director
Associate Dean cummings joined the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law faculty in 2018. He writes extensively on issues regarding investor protection, racial and social justice, and sports and entertainment law, publishing in the Washington University Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, Utah Law Review, Tulane Law Review, Howard Law Journal, Drexel Law Review, Marquette Sports Law Review, Iowa Journal of Gender, Race and Justice, Thurgood Marshall Law Review and Harvard Journal on Racial and Ethnic Justice, amongst many others. cummings has published three books including “Corporate Justice” (with Todd Clark) in 2016, “Hip Hop and the Law” (with Pamela Bridgewater and Donald Tibbs) in 2015, and “Reversing Field: Examining Commercialization, Labor, Gender, and Race in 21st Century Sports Law” (with Anne Marie Lofaso) in 2010. His service activities include working with decArcerate, the Arkansas Cinema Society, and as Board President of Abolish Private Prisons.
The Center will focus on specific racial justice and criminal justice research projects throughout Arkansas. An advisory group will help ensure the Center and its initiatives are designed and executed in a way that maximizes collaboration, engagement, efficiency, transparency, and credibility. The data gathered will be reported and shared to improve the lives of all Arkansans.
The Center will provide educational and professional development opportunities for Bowen students. In addition, using the data gathered through its research, the Center will offer workshops and educational events for the legal community and the community as a whole.
The first of these is a judicial listening series, created in partnership with the Arkansas Administrative Office of the Courts and funded by $20,000 from the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. In spring 2022, there will be five judicial engagement events throughout the state and in central Arkansas. These events will bring together judges and community members to discuss how the judicial system impacts community members’ lives.
Increasing Diversity in Law School and the Legal Profession
Bowen currently has existing pathway programs with two Arkansas historically black colleges and universities – the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and Philander Smith College. The law school recently received a $25,000 grant from the Building Black Communities Fund, coordinated by the Arkansas Community Foundation and the Arkansas Black Philanthropy Collaborative, to create and implement a law school pathway program that will include an LSAT prep course as well as prospective student visits to the law school to sit in on classes and learn how to navigate the law school application process.
An advisory group of leaders, policy makers, and criminal justice experts from across the state representing a range of perspectives and experiences will support the Center’s work. In addition, the Center with stakeholders across the state, including the legal and law enforcement communities, academics, students, and community members, in developing research tools.
Research fellowships, such as the newly created Sam Reeves Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform Fellowship, will provide stipends for student researchers.
Current Research Fellows
Zoë Harris, class of 2022, grew up in Camden, Arkansas, and is a first-generation college student. Her undergraduate degree is in criminal justice. Ms. Harris has clerked at the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office, and now works with decARcerate, an Arkansas non-profit dedicated to reforming the Arkansas prison system and to rehabilitating those who have been released, and with Abolish Private Prisons related to their nationwide work to end for-profit private prisons in the United States. Ms. Harris was named Bowen’s 2020 Dean’s Fellow of the Year.
Amanda Hager Freudensprung, class of 2024, grew up in Baxter County, Arkansas, and has also lived and worked in Northern Ireland, the District of Columbia, and Waco, Texas. Her undergraduate degree is in English literature with a minor in French. Ms. Freudensprung worked as a journalist, a magazine editor, and an English teacher before beginning law school at Bowen in 2020. In addition to her work for the Center, she is a law clerk at Taylor & Taylor Law Firm and is a staff member of the UA Little Rock Law Review.