On April 17, 1969, inmates of the Cummins Farm Unit of the Arkansas State Penitentiary located in Lincoln County, Arkansas, brought a class action suit under 42 U.S.C. §1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas alleging that the conditions of their confinement in the isolation unit constituted cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The plaintiffs further alleged that they were denied adequate medical attention and that Penitentiary officials failed to take adequate steps to protect inmates from assaults by other inmates. Private attorneys from Little Rock, Arkansas (in conjunction with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund) provided counsel to the plaintiff inmates throughout this extensive litigation. On June 20, 1969, after a two-day trial, the District Court (Chief Judge Jesse Smith Henley) held that state prison officials failed to discharge their constitutional duty to protect inmates because inmates were sleeping on cots in open barracks with no guard within the actual sleeping area. Holt v. Sarver, 300 F.Supp. 825 (E.D.Ark. 1969). Chief Judge Henley also found that confinement of inmates in isolation cells constituted cruel and unusual punishment because the isolation cells were overcrowded, dirty, unsanitary and pervaded by bad odors from toilets. Chief Judge Henley requested that the prison officials suggest possible remedial measures.
Inmates at the Tucker Intermediate Reformatory subsequently brought additional claims against the defendant state prison officials which were consolidated with the case brought by the Cummins Farm Unit inmates. On Feb. 18, 1970, Chief Judge Henley held that conditions and practices throughout the Arkansas penitentiary system, including the open barracks system, conditions in isolation cells and the absence of a meaningful rehabilitation program amounted to a violation of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Holt v. Sarver, 309 F.Supp. 362 (E.D.Ark. 1970). Chief Judge Henley ordered state prison officials to report to the District Court a plan to bring the penitentiary system into compliance with the United States Constitution. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit (Judge Martin Donald Van Oosterhout) affirmed the District Court's declaratory judgment that the acts, policies and practices of the Arkansas penitentiary system violated inmates' constitutional rights. Holt v. Sarver, 442 F.2d 304 (8th Cir. 1971). The Court further held that the inmates' suit was not barred by the Eleventh Amendment as a suit against the State of Arkansas because it was an action to enjoin a state official from violating a federally guaranteed constitutional right.
On remand to the District Court, Chief Judge Henley held on August 13, 1973, that African-American Muslims confined in prisons may not be discriminated against on account of their religion, that racial discrimination between convicts is unconstitutional, that difficulty in hiring qualified African-Americans for prison positions was not to deter prison officials from trying to do so, that incoming privileged correspondence was to be opened in the presence of the prisoner and that prison officials must improve their investigations of the use of force against inmates. Holt v. Hutto, 363 F.Supp. 194 (E.D.Ark. 1973). Chief Judge Henley entered a supplemental decree enjoining the aforementioned practices of the Arkansas Department of Correction and determined that it was no longer necessary to retain jurisdiction of the case. The plaintiffs appealed, and on October 10, 1974, the Court of Appeals (Judge Donald Pomery Lay) held that the Arkansas penitentiary system was still unconstitutional and directed corrective action to be taken with respect to housing, racial discrimination, physical abuse and rehabilitative programs. Finney v. Arkansas Board of Correction, 505 F.2d 194 (8th Cir. 1974). The Court further held that the District Court should have retained continuing jurisdiction.
On March 19, 1976, the District Court (Judge Jesse Smith Henley had been promoted to the Court of Appeals, but he sat by designation) held that confinement of more than two men in a single cell in punitive isolation or administrative segregation is unconstitutional in non-emergency situations. Finney v. Hutto, 410 F.Supp. 251 (E.D.Ark. 1976). Judge Henley further held that the use of ""grue"" as food in state prisons was unconstitutional, and the policy of sentencing inmates to indeterminate periods of confinement in punitive isolation was unreasonable and unconstitutional. Judge Henley also awarded attorney fees and costs. On January 6, 1977, the Court of Appeals (Judge Donald Roe Ross) affirmed the District Court's finding that confinement of prisoners in punitive isolation for more than thirty days was impermissible cruel and unusual punishment. Finney v. Hutto, 548 F.2d 740 (8th Cir. 1977). The Court also found that the award of attorney fees and costs was justified and not barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
On June 23, 1978, the United States Supreme Court (Justice John Paul Stevens) affirmed, holding that conditions in the isolation cells violated the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment and that the District Court had authority to place a maximum limit of thirty days on confinement in isolation cells. Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678 (1978). The Supreme Court additionally held that the Eleventh Amendment did not prevent an award of attorney fees against officers of the State Department of Correction, acting in their official capacity, as a result of the officers' bad faith failure to cure constitutional violations in the state prison system. The Supreme Court also found that the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act authorized the award of $2,500 to the inmates' counsel for their services on appeal and that the award was payable by the state. A petition for a rehearing before the Supreme Court was denied on January 15, 1979. Hutto v. Finney, 439 U.S. 1122 (1979).
On June 30, 1978, the District Court (Chief Judge Garnett Thomas Eisele) held that due process was violated at the Cummins Unit when high ranking prison officials ordered guilty verdicts in disciplinary proceedings and suggested certain punishments to the members of the unit's disciplinary committee. Finney v. Mabry, 455 F.Supp. 756 (E.D.Ark. 1978). Chief Judge Eisele further held that the disciplinary committee could not rely solely on secondary reports of rule violations in its proceedings without primary evidence of guilt (such as witness statements or physical evidence).
Chief Judge Eisele approved a consent decree entered into by the parties on October 5, 1978, which provided that the Department of Corrections would maintain an internal grievance procedure, that no inmate would be confined in punitive segregation for more than thirty consecutive days, that law libraries would be maintained by the Department for inmates' use, and that the Department would institute an affirmative action program for the recruitment and promotion of African-American employees. Finney v. Mabry, 458 F.Supp. 720 (E.D.Ark. 1978). After inmates challenged the Department of Correction's policy of administrative segregation, the District Court (Chief Judge Garnett Thomas Eisele) held that Arkansas prison regulations provided a sufficient guarantee that the inmates would not be confined in administrative segregation without the requisite due process protections. Finney v. Mabry, 528 F.Supp. 567 (E.D.Ark. 1981).
On February 19, 1982, Chief Judge Eisele found the Department of Correction in violation of the District Court's prior consent decree's provisions regarding open barracks, overcrowding, and affirmative action in the hiring of minorities. Finney v. Mabry, 534 F.Supp. 1026 (E.D.Ark. 1982). Chief Judge Eisele ordered the Department of Correction to file periodic reports on the progress being made to redress the violations of the consent decree.
Chief Judge Eisele ordered the Department of Correction on March 2, 1982, to file reports regarding improvements to be made to the facilities of the Cummins Unit. Finney v. Mabry, 546 F.Supp. 626 (E.D.Ark. 1982). On August 20, 1982, upon the filing of the Department of Correction's final report regarding the implementation of improvements in state prison facilities and procedures, Chief Judge Eisele held that the Department of Correction had come into compliance with the District Court's consent decree and the requirements of the U.S. Constitution. Finney v. Mabry, 546 F.Supp. 628 (E.D.Ark. 1982). Therefore, the case was dismissed.
According to the docket, available on PACER beginning in 1990, Chief Judge Eisele denied a motion to modify the consent decree on July 27, 1990. Chief Judge Eisele also denied subsequent motions to re-open the case on January 7, 1991, and March 29, 1999. The order denying the motion to re-open the case from March 29, 1999, is the last substantive entry on the docket.Tom Madison - 05/01/2006