Talley v. Stephens, PB-65-C-33.

Decision Date15 November 1965
Docket NumberNo. PB-65-C-33.,PB-65-C-33.
Citation247 F. Supp. 683
PartiesWinston TALLEY, William Warren Hash, and Vernon Sloan, Petitioners, v. Dan D. STEPHENS, Superintendent of the Arkansas State Penitentiary, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Arkansas


Bruce T. Bullion, Little Rock, Ark., Louis L. Ramsay, Jr., Pine Bluff, Ark., for petitioners.

Bruce Bennett, Atty. Gen., and R. E. Wallin and Fletcher Jackson, Asst. Attys. Gen., of Arkansas, Little Rock, Ark., for respondent.

HENLEY, Chief Judge.

This is a suit in equity brought by three inmates of the Arkansas State Penitentiary, namely Winston Talley, William Warren Hash, and Vernon Sloan, against Dan D. Stephens, Superintendent of that institution, for the purpose of restraining respondent from continuing certain prison practices which petitioners claim are violative of rights secured to them by the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.1 Federal subject matter jurisdiction is to be found in 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983.

Petitioners contend, in essence, that they have been unconstitutionally subjected to cruel and unusual punishments, and that they have been denied unconstitutionally access to the Courts to secure redress of their alleged grievances. They do not question the legality of their confinements or claim that they are entitled to release from custody at this time.

Petitioners have been represented most capably by Bruce T. Bullion of Little Rock and Louis L. Ramsay, Jr. of Pine Bluff, appointed by the Court to represent petitioners without charge. The Court is grateful to Messrs. Bullion and Ramsay for their services.

All petitioners assert that they have been denied access to the Courts; Talley and Hash, and Sloan to some extent, contend that they have been subjected to severe corporal punishment which, in the case of Talley, includes alleged unlawful assaults by a fellow inmate, James Pike. Hash and Sloan contend that they have been forced to perform heavy manual labor on the Penitentiary farm which they were not and are not capable of performing. All petitioners complain also that they have been refused needed medical attention.

Respondent denies that Talley is entitled to any relief. Respondent originally took the same position with respect to Hash and Sloan, but now concedes, as will more fully appear, that the Court should enter a decree awarding them some relief.

Following a pre-trial conference held in September of the current year, the case was set for trial to the Court on Monday, October 13. On that date testimony was taken with respect to the Talley petition. The Court heard the testimony of Talley and that of a considerable number of inmate witnesses called by Talley and respondent, respectively. Assistant Warden Mose Harmon, Jr., who has had Talley in charge during much of his incarceration at the Penitentiary, was also heard.2 Respondent did not testify, but he has made a number of statements in the course of the proceedings which the Court has taken into consideration.

At the conclusion of the hearing on the Talley petition, the Court adjourned the proceedings until November 1, at which time it was planned to take testimony in connection with the applications of Hash and Sloan. However, a few days before November 1 respondent filed two documents consenting to the entry of judgments in favor of those two petitioners, and no further evidentiary hearing was held.3

Both sides have filed memorandum briefs and both sides have requested or suggested certain specific findings of fact and conclusions of law. All of those requests and suggestions are denied, except to the extent that they are included in this memorandum which incorporates the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law.

Before discussing the merits some comment in connection with the jurisdiction and function of the Court in a case of this kind is in order.

Although persons convicted of crimes lose many of the rights and privileges of law abiding citizens, it is established by now that they do not lose all of their civil rights, and that the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment follow them into the prison and protect them there from unconstitutional administrative action on the part of prison authorities carried out under color of State law, custom, or usage. More specifically, prison authorities are not permitted to inflict upon convicts cruel and unusual punishments for violations of prison rules; they may not discriminate invidiously against a prisoner or class of prisoners; and they may not deny to a prisoner reasonable access to the courts to test the validity of his confinement or to secure judicial protection of his constitutional rights. See Cooper v. Pate, 378 U.S. 546, 84 S.Ct. 1733, 12 L.Ed.2d 1030; White v. Ragen, 324 U.S. 760, 65 S.Ct. 978, 89 L.Ed. 1348; Ex parte Hull, 312 U.S. 546, 61 S.Ct. 640, 85 L.Ed. 1034; U.S. ex rel. Knight v. Ragen, 7 Cir., 337 F.2d 425; McCloskey v. State of Maryland, 4 Cir., 337 F.2d 72; Childs v. Pegelow, 4 Cir., 321 F.2d 487; Roberts v. Pegelow, 4 Cir., 313 F.2d 548; Sewell v. Pegelow, 4 Cir., 291 F.2d 196; Coleman v. Johnston, 7 Cir., 247 F.2d 273; Mason v. Cranor, 9 Cir., 227 F.2d 557; Tabor v. Hardwick, 5 Cir., 224 F.2d 526; Coffin v. Reichard, 6 Cir., 143 F.2d 443, 155 A.L.R. 143. Prior exhaustion of available remedies in the State courts before relief is sought in the federal courts is not required. Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 81 S.Ct. 473, 5 L.Ed.2d 492.

On the other hand, convicts must be disciplined, and prison authorities must be given wide latitude and discretion in the management and operation of their institutions, including the disciplining of inmates. The Courts cannot take over the management of prisons, and they cannot undertake to review every complaint made by a convict about his treatment while in the prison. Cole v. Smith, 8 Cir., 344 F.2d 721; Snow v. Gladden, 9 Cir., 338 F.2d 999; Sutton v. Settle, 8 Cir., 302 F.2d 286; Williams v. Steele, 8 Cir., 194 F.2d 32, rehearing denied, 194 F.2d 917; Garcia v. Steele, 8 Cir., 193 F.2d 276. It must be recognized also that the administration of prison discipline must in many instances be summary, and that the punishment administered to a convict for a violation of prison rules may differ quantitatively and qualitatively from the punishment prescribed by a criminal statute and imposed initially by a court following an individual's conviction of a crime. See State v. Revis, 193 N.C. 192, 136 S.E. 346, 50 A.L.R. 98.


Taking up first the claims of Hash and Sloan that they have been required to do field work in excess of their physical capabilities, it is conceded, and the Court finds, that both of those men are laboring under serious physical handicaps, that their physical condition has been classified as "poor" by the prison physician; that despite their condition and classification thereof they have been required to engage in work which they are not physically able to perform. They have now been assigned to light work. Respondent has consented that injunctive relief should be granted to Hash and Sloan in this area, and such relief will be granted.

In this connection the Court has no difficulty with the proposition that for prison officials knowingly to compel convicts to perform physical labor which is beyond their strength, or which constitutes a danger to their lives or health, or which is unduly painful constitutes an infliction of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as included in the 14th Amendment. See Robinson v. State of California, 370 U.S. 660, 82 S.Ct. 1417, 8 L.Ed. 2d 758.


Not entirely unrelated to the claim of Hash and Sloan just discussed is the claim of all three petitioners that needed medical assistance has been withheld and that attendance at "sick calls" has been unreasonably restricted.

Proposed Conclusion of Law No. (14) A(b) submitted by petitioners is that respondent should be required to "furnish reasonable medical attention for injuries and disabilities, at all reasonable times, and to permit attendance at sick call at reasonable times * * *." Respondent does not object to the Court drawing that conclusion, and it will be incorporated in the decree to be entered.


The Court next turns to the most serious complaint of petitioners, namely, the infliction of corporal punishment. As administered at the Penitentiary, that punishment consists of blows with a leather strap five feet in length, four inches wide, and about one-fourth inch thick, attached to a wooden handle or shaft about six inches long. Ordinarily, the punishment is inflicted by the Assistant Warden having in his charge the inmate to be punished. A prisoner who is to be whipped is required to lie down on the ground fully clothed, and the blows are inflicted on his buttocks.

Under governing provisions of Arkansas law control of the Penitentiary is vested in the State Penitentiary Board, which is an honorary board consisting of five members appointed by the Governor of Arkansas. In practice the Board has largely left the administration of the Penitentiary to the discretion of the Superintendent.

Act 76 of 1893, § 62, p. 121, Ark.Stats., 1947, § 46-158, makes it the duty of the Board to prescribe the mode and extent of punishments to be inflicted on convicts for the violation of prison rules, and it is a felony for any Superintendent, subordinate officer or guard having convicts in charge to inflict or cause to be inflicted on any convict any greater or more severe punishment than is prescribed by the Board, and if death results from the infliction of excessive punishment, the person responsible is deemed to be guilty of murder or manslaughter "as the case may be."

It is probably true that corporal punishment has been used at the Penitentiary for many years. However, its use was not formally authorized...

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