Approximately 200 people attended the 2015 “Reveal, Restore and Resurrect” conference at the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law on August 28-29. During the event, sponsored by the law school’s Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project, representatives of the legal profession, law enforcement, higher education and community organizations discussed results of the Project’s 2015 research study. Dr. Joel Anderson, UALR Chancellor, and Dr. Michael Hunter Schwartz, Dean of the law school, welcomed conference participants.
The report on the review of prisoner records focused on fifteen questions covering how race, education levels, sentencing practices, and mental health histories affected incarcerated blacks and whites to determine if racial disparities existed. The project analyzed records of 538 Arkansans convicted of murder and sentenced to life, life without parole, or death. Another section of the study assessed the effects of prosecutor discretion in four Arkansas counties between 2010 and 2013.
Survey results showed that the race of prisoners within the state’s criminal justice system does produce significant effects. Blacks are more likely to receive the death penalty as well as to serve more severe and longer sentences.
Conference speakers addressed survey findings and discussed ways to heal the brokenness caused by racial bias in the criminal justice system. They also examined ways to break down barriers that keep former prisoners from being restored to their communities and to help communities shed the burdens of inequality.
Panelists included former Governor Jim Guy Tucker, and Judges Wiley Branton, Jr. and Wendell Griffen. Wilbert Rideau, an award-winning journalist who spent 44 years in Louisiana’s Angola Prison, delivered Saturday’s keynote address, “Barriers to Restoration.”
Dr. John Kirk, director of UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, and Judge Olly Neal, former Arkansas Court of Appeals judge, gave closing remarks.
The UALR William H. Bowen School of Law’s Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project was conceived by Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, director of the project and Professor of Law, and Dr. David Montague of the UALR Criminal Justice Department, in 2011. The project examines racial disparities in the state’s criminal justice system. Based on extensive research it develops policy, practices and community programming recommendations to minimize and eliminate racial disparities. Sixty-five people including judges, defense and prosecuting attorneys, victims’ advocates, academics, prison reform activists, and community leaders from throughout the state serve on the project’s Steering Committee.
In discussing the conference, Dr. Kirk said, “I am delighted to see the final results of this longstanding project that was incubated in the Institute under Dr. Aiyetoro’s directorship. The data will provide an important source of information that should be noted and accessed by everyone working in Arkansas’s criminal justice system.”