Arkansas developed a reputation as a rough place early in its history. Though sparsely populated, criminal activity was common and law enforcement limited. State and local government struggled to create a safe environment for its citizens. Conditions, however, improved dramatically from the 19th through the 20th century, especially in the later decades. The Old State House Museum's exhibit, Badges, Bandits & Bars: Arkansas Law & Justice, explored the state's history of crime and punishment from pre-territorial days to the mid-1980s.
The exhibit was divided into four distinct narratives: The Criminal Element, which chronicled the story of Arkansas badmen; Upholding the Law, which told the story of Arkansas law enforcement; The Scales of Justice, which narrated the colorful history of Arkansas's courts; and Behind Bars, which dealt with Arkansas's seemingly endless quest to reform its prison system.
Artifacts and photographs from collections donated by the Arkansas State Police and the Arkansas Department of Corrections were part of the exhibit, as well as objects loaned by other institutions and individuals, and many from the Old State House Museum's own collection.