Leading the Charge: Fighting Implicit Racial Bias Inside and Out
April 26-27, 2019
The UA Little Rock Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project (“the Project”) seeks to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system through outreach and education to combat implicit racial bias in the criminal justice system. The Project began in 2011 under the leadership of Adjoa Aiyetoro, the inaugural director of the UA Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity. Arkansas’s population is only 15% African American, yet African Americans make up 42% of the state’s prison population. The Project sought to determine whether race was a driving factor in this disparity or whether there was another explanation. In 2015, the Project released its finding that race is a determining factor in the charge and sentence a defendant will receive. The Project found that an African American defendant is more likely to receive harsher punishment, especially the death penalty. Additionally, in the four counties where prosecutorial discretion was studied, African American defendants were more likely to be “overcharged” by the prosecutor.
Since its inception, the Project has placed high importance on community guidance and outreach. The Project is anchored by a steering committee with members from across the state with diverse roles in the community and the justice system. We have hosted two conferences and at least 16 community forums throughout the state. In addition to sharing the message, these forums have also served as a way to collect stories from community members regarding how racial disparities in the criminal justice system have impacted their lives and the lives of their families. The Project has also done focused outreach to stakeholder groups in the criminal justice system, with presentations to public defenders, prosecutors, judges and bar associations.
In June 2017, Professor Aiyetoro retired and leadership of the Project shifted to a four-person executive committee. With the support of the steering committee, the Project agreed to focus continuing outreach efforts on training and education on the topic of implicit racial bias. Our initial outreach to the judiciary has been successful, with one Supreme Court Justice recommending the adoption of a model jury instruction on implicit bias. In the coming years, we hope to bring in one or more judges from around the country as keynote speakers to address ways to mitigate implicit racial bias in the courtroom, and plan a conference aimed at reducing implicit racial bias in law enforcement.