New UA Little Rock Center to Focus on Criminal Justice Research

The center will also work to increase diversity in the legal profession.

headshot of UALR professor Anastasia Boles
Professor Anastasia Boles is co-director the Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform. Photo courtesy of UA Little Rock.

The UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law has created the Center for Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform. The center recently received approval by both the UA System Board of Trustees and the Arkansas Department of Higher Education.

The center’s mission is to advance legal equity, access to justice and fairness in Arkansas and the region, according to a press release. Bowen professors Anastasia Boles and andré douglas pond cummings co-founded the center and will act as its co-directors.

“The center will provide educational and professional development opportunities for Bowen law students, empowering them to become the next generation of legal leaders,” Boles said. “Research fellowships, such as the newly created Sam Reeves Racial Justice and Criminal Justice Reform Fellowship, will provide stipends for student researchers.”

In addition, the center will focus on specific criminal justice research projects while offering workshops and educational events for the legal community and the community as a whole.

“The center is enthusiastic about engaging with stakeholders across the state, including the legal and law enforcement communities, academics, students and community members, in developing research tools and sharing data to improve the lives of all Arkansans,” cummings said.

Another part of the center’s mission is to increase diversity in law school and the legal profession. 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 pipeline 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. The course will be part of Bowen’s existing pipeline programs with the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

An advisory group of leaders, policymakers and criminal justice experts from across the state representing a range of perspectives and experiences will support the center’s work. 

“The center is firmly rooted in Bowen’s core values of access to justice, public service, and professionalism,” Dean Theresa Beiner said. “The events over the past year have brought these values to the forefront. Many students choose to attend law school because they seek to improve their communities and to be part of local, regional and national conversations about the legal system. The center, through research opportunities and educational programs, will give them the opportunity to achieve those goals.”

The center will build on other Bowen initiatives, including the Racial Disparities in the Arkansas Criminal Justice System Research Project. That project released a 2015 report analyzing racial disparities in Arkansas criminal sentencing and has worked with the community to examine criminal justice issues. 

Additionally, the Rural Practice Incubator Project trains and supports new attorneys who wish to open law practices in underserved counties in Arkansas. Bowen’s public service externship program also provides students opportunities to work in federal, state and local court systems, government agencies and nonprofit organizations.