309 F.Supp. 362 (E.D.Ark. 1970), PB-69-C-24, Holt v. Sarver

Docket NºNos. PB-69-C-24, 25, 29, 71, 75 76, 80, 91.
Citation309 F.Supp. 362
Party NameLawrence J. HOLT et al., Petitioners, v. Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, State of Arkansas; John Haley, Payton Kolb, Marshall Rush, W.L. Currie, and William Lytle, Individually and in their capacities as Members of the Board of Corrections of the State of Arkansas, Respondents. Travis Eugene FIELDS, Petitioner, v. Robert SARVER, Commiss
Case DateFebruary 18, 1970
CourtUnited States District Courts, 8th Circuit, Eastern District of Arkansas

Page 362

309 F.Supp. 362 (E.D.Ark. 1970)

Lawrence J. HOLT et al., Petitioners,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, State of Arkansas; John Haley, Payton Kolb, Marshall Rush, W.L. Currie, and William Lytle, Individually and in their capacities as Members of the Board of Corrections of the State of Arkansas, Respondents.

Travis Eugene FIELDS, Petitioner,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

George W. OVERTON, Petitioner,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Stanley W. BROOKS et al., Petitioners,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Jack Allen BARBER, Petitioner,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Jerry DENHAM, Petitioner,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Carlton J. CARNEY et al., Petitioners,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Thomas Mitchell HILDERBRANDT, Petitioner,

v.

Robert SARVER, Commissioner of Corrections, et al., Respondents.

Nos. PB-69-C-24, 25, 29, 71, 75 76, 80, 91.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Pine Bluff Division.

Feb. 18, 1970

Page 363

Jack Holt, Jr., Philip Kaplan, Little Rock, Ark., for petitioners.

Page 364

Don Langston and Mike Wilson, Asst. Attys. Gen., State of Arkansas, for respondents.

Memorandum Opinion

HENLEY, Chief Judge.

These eight class actions have been brought by inmates of the Cummins Farm Unit of the Arkansas State Penitentiary System and the Tucker Intermediate Reformatory which is a part of that System against the members of the Arkansas State Board of Corrections and the State Commissioner of Corrections who administer the system. Plaintiffs contend on behalf of themselves and on behalf of other inmates and on behalf of other persons who may in the future be confined at Cummins or at Tucker that the forced, uncompensated farm labor exacted from Arkansas convicts for the benefit of the State is violative of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. They contend further that conditions and practices within the System are such that confinement there amounts to a cruel and unusual punishment proscribed by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as carried forward into the Fourteenth Amendment. And they contend still further that unconstitutional racial segregation is being practiced within the System in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Federal jurisdiction is invoked under the provisions of 28 U.S.C.A. § 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.

It appearing to the Court that constitutional questions raised by the petitions submitted by the complaining inmates per se were substantial, the Court appointed Messrs. Jack Holt, Jr. and Philip Kaplan of the Little Rock Bar to represent Petitioners without charge. Messrs. Holt and Kaplan accepted the appointments and have done yeoman service on behalf of their clients. The Court wishes to thank them for their efforts.

Petitioners' complaints are well summarized in Paragraph 20 of the Consolidated Amended and Substituted Complaint which is follows:

'20. The actions of defendants have deprived members of the plaintiff class of rights, privileges and immunities secured to them by the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, including (a) the right not to be imprisoned without meaningful rehabilitative opportunities, (b) the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, (c) the right to be free from arbitrary and capricious denial of rehabilitation opportunities, (d) the right to minimal due process safeguards in decisions determining fundamental liberties, (e) the right to be fed, housed, and clothed so as not to be subjected to loss of health or life, (f) the right to unhampered access to counsel and the courts, (g) the right to be free from the abuses of fellow prisoners in all aspects of daily life, (h) the right to be free from racial segregation, (i) the right to be free from forced labor, and (j) the right to be free from the brutality of being guarded by fellow inmates.'

The prayer is for a declaratory judgment to the effect that Respondents' acts, policies, and practices violate Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and for appropriate permanent injunctive relief.

Shortly before the cases, hereinafter called collectively at times simply 'the case' or 'this case,' were tried, Respondents, represented by Messrs. Don Langston and Mike Wilson of the Office of the Arkansas Attorney General, moved to dismiss the petitions on the ground that the case was nothing more than an effort to coerce the Arkansas Legislature into appropriating more money for the System, and that the Court was without jurisdiction to entertain such an action. The Court did not and does not so characterize the case, and the motion was denied. The Court is satisfied that it has jurisdiction under

Page 365

the federal statutes heretofore cited, and so finds.

On the merits, Respondents do not contend that they are operating a 'good' prison or a 'modern' prison. With commendable candor they concede that many of the conditions existing at the Penitentiary are bad. However, they deny that they are operating an unconstitutional prison or are engaging in unconstitutional practices. They say that they are doing the best they can with extremely limited funds and personnel. They point, justly, to the fact that over the past several years a number of significant improvements have been made within the System and they say that more are in the offing.

This case, unlike earlier cases to be mentioned which have involved specific practices and abuses alleged to have been practiced upon Arkansas convicts, amounts to an attack on the System itself. As far as the Court is aware, this is the first time that convicts have attacked an entire penitentiary system in any court, either State or federal.

The cases were consolidated for purposes of trial and were tried to the Court without a jury for almost an entire week. Much testimony was taken and a substantial body of documentary evidence was introduced. The Court had the benefit of the expert testimony of a recognized authority on prisons and their administration, Mr. James V. Bennett who for many years was Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The Court had indirectly the benefit of the views of Mr. Austin McCormick of New York City, another recognized penologist, who is Executive Director of the Osborne Association, Inc., and who served as Chief Consultant to the Penitentiary Study Commission created by the Arkansas Legislature in 1967. (Act 22 of 1967, approved January 31, 1967.) The views of Mr. McCormick are set forth in the formal report of the Commission submitted on January 1, 1968, a copy of which report was introduced in evidence. There has also been made available to the Court a copy of a report in letter form from Dr. Charles M. Friel, Director of Research, Institute of Contemporary Corrections and the Behavioral Sciences, Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, Texas, to the Arkansas Commission on Crime and Law Enforcement. That report is dated January 29, 1970, which date was the third day of the trial of this case. While the report was not formally introduced in evidence, it will be made part of the record, and the Court feels at liberty to consider it.

Apart from the foregoing, the Court heard the testimony of inmates and free world employees of the Penitentiary System; the Court also saw a motion picture film depicting certain prison conditions and has examined a number of photographs and other documentary material.

This Memorandum incorporates the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law. In view of the serious nature of the case, in view of that fact that in a sense the real Respondents are not limited to those formally before the Court but include the Governor of Arkansas, the Arkansas Legislature, and ultimately the people of the State as a whole, the issues presented have been given the most careful consideration of which the Court has felt itself capable. The questions presented are grave and will be discussed fully. The Court deems it well, however, to state in advance of discussion its ultimate findings and conclusions on the constitutional issues presented.

1. The Court rejects the contention of the Petitioners that the forced, uncompensated labor of Arkansas convicts violates the Thirteenth Amendment.

2. The Court sustains the claim that conditions and practices in the Penitentiary System are such that confinement of persons therein amounts to a cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Page 366

3. The Court sustains the claim that to the extent that unconstitutional racial discrimination is being practiced in the System it must be eliminated.

Having so stated its findings and conclusions, the Court will proceed to discuss them and thereafter will pass to a consideration of the relief to be awarded.

I. Introduction

The Arkansas State Penitentiary System consists of the 16,000 acre Cummins Farm located in Lincoln County; the Tucker Intermediate Reformatory located on a 4,500 acre farm in Jefferson County; and the small Women's Reformatory located on the Cummins Farm. 1

The inmate population at Cummins now consists of somewhat less than 1,000 persons; about 325 persons most of whom are under 21 years of age are confined at Tucker. Prior to the passage of Act 377 of 1969 the Tucker Intermediate Reformatory was known simply as the Tucker Farm Unit of the Arkansas State Penitentiary. It is a much smaller institution than Cummins and its problems and those of its inmates are not nearly as severe as those existing at Cummins. For that reason discussion will be...

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