Black Arkansans Charged & Sentenced More Harshly for Robbery & Homicide

In “Rejecting the Wrongs of Yesterday: A Multifaceted Approach to Eliminating Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System,” Adjoa Aiyetoro and Tara DeJohn recount the creation of the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Project at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and describe the group’s research, community collaboration and education, and policy development. The group sought to pass racial impact legislation during the 2013, 2015, and 2017 legislative sessions—to identify any disparate racial impact of proposed legislation—but could not overcome opponents who stated that they “did not believe in systemic racism.” This article, published in the Tennessee Journal of Race, Gender, & Social Justice, presents the group’s research on prosecutorial decisions in homicide and robbery cases, as well as sentencing outcomes for homicide. 

The analysis of charging reductions and dispositions in four Arkansas counties between 2007 and 2013 reveals that black Arkansans tend to be charged with more severe homicide crimes (e.g., capital murder) than whites, “leading to possible plea agreements on harsher charges and therefore longer sentences.” In robbery cases, whites were initially charged with a less serious offense (i.e., simple versus aggravated robbery), potentially giving them the benefit of lower bails. 

The group’s analysis of 2013 data from the Arkansas Department of Corrections revealed that among 538 individuals convicted of homicide and serving a sentence of life, life without parole, or death, blacks were more likely than whites to have been convicted of capital murder (versus first-degree murder) and to be sentenced to death or life without parole (versus life with the possibility of parole). “This research serves as a basis for a call to action on ending systemic institutional racism in the Arkansas criminal punishment system,” the authors conclude.