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In , federal judge J. Smith Henley declared the Arkansas prison system unconstitutional. By then, Rockefeller had begun serious reform at Cummins, including better food, sanitation, and medical treatment, as well the beginnings of educational programs.
Most importantly, Rockefeller began the dismantling of the corrupt armed trusty system. Just before leaving office in , Rockefeller commuted the sentences of all men on death row to life imprisonment. Another champion of reform at Cummins was musician Johnny Cash , who played at the prison in April With his wife, June Carter Cash, as well as Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers, Cash performed as part of his larger efforts to shed light on the need for rehabilitation in American prisons.
Rockefeller also attended. It was not until that the Cummins chapel was finished. Despite reform efforts by Rockefeller and others, in the s, the horrors of Cummins became more widely known. In , K. Though fictional, the novel vividly and accurately depicted prison abuses. That same year, nationally syndicated columnist Bob Greene wrote about a fifteen-year-old inmate scheduled for execution at Cummins, which had no age limit for convicts.
In , photographer Bruce Jackson published Killing Time , a frank examination of prison life at Cummins. The book contained photographs and testimony from inmates and prison officials concerning how the prison had changed since the Rockefeller period and the reforms that were still needed.
By the late s, Cummins had rectified many of the worst abuses of the old system. New problems, however, had emerged. One was overcrowding. Such factors led to an explosion in the prison population in Arkansas. In June , Cummins was short beds. Nevertheless, in , the American Correctional Association accredited Cummins for the first time. Since the Rockefeller administration, the prison had without question changed for the better.
In , Cummins commemorated its th anniversary, when officials noted the progress the prison had made. However, conditions at Cummins continued to attract negative national attention, especially during the COVID pandemic , which first hit Arkansas in early By April 10, , thirteen employees of the Arkansas Department of Corrections had tested positive for the virus, and the first infected inmate was detected at the Cummins Unit.
Further testing was done, showing that nearly 1, in the facility, including several staff, had been infected, leading the state to re-evaluate early release for those who had committed parole violations or other non-violent offenses.
For additional information: Aviv, Rachel. Crosley, Clyde. House, Lamar. Arkansas Times January : 2629, 80, 8286, 88; February : 4245, 65 Jackson, Bruce. Killing Time: Life inside the Arkansas Penitentiary. Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture. Woodward, Colin Edward. Honor or memorial gifts are an everlasting way to pay tribute to someone who has touched your life.
All results. All Entries Cummins Unit. Murton, Tom, and Joe Hyams. Accomplices to the Crime. Rodney F. Carlton, the first state medical examiner in Arkansas history, tried to determine who the skeletons were in life and how they died.
In the meantime, Carlton advised officials to have a pathologist on hand if more bodies were discovered. No more bodies were ever dug up at Cummins. Cummins elicited uncomfortable comparisons to not only Southern plantations, but the concentration camps of World War II. In short, Murton had created for Rockefeller a public relations nightmare.
In the face of a media storm, Rockefeller ordered Murton to stop digging. The issue turned into a legal and political battle. Murton said he had had permission from Rockefeller aides to dig up bodies. The Rockefeller administration denied having done so. Murton refused to back down from his claims that he had found the bodies of murdered men. Any rational person might have reasoned that in the nearly 70 years Cummins had operated under prisoner management, many men had died, whether violently or not.
Obviously they had to have been buried somewhere, and it was likely prisoners would not have chosen to bury them far from where the men died. In the wait for a definite answer on the origin of the skeletons, Rockefeller did not want Murton to discover more. Murton wanted to stay at Cummins, where he could continue his reform efforts. But he had become a liability, and even his defenders saw that he was his own worst enemy. What he lacked was diplomacy. The Board of Corrections fired Murton on March 7, Murton was too willing to act on his own authority, and that made him a political threat that Rockefeller could not tolerate.
Murton never worked in prisons again. Murton, not surprisingly, was critical of it, which he saw as sloppy and lacking professional rigor. In October , Cummins again entered national headlines when guards shot at scores of inmates who were protesting prison conditions. No men were killed in the shooting, but 24 were wounded. Associate Superintendent Gary Haydis, who had previously worked in California and had ordered the shooting, was charged with civil rights violations by a federal court, though he was later acquitted.
By then, Rockefeller had won a second term as governor. To win re-election, he had not taken any chances, going so far as to enlist the support of Johnny Cash, who played at a handful of Rockefeller rallies.
Sarver had worked in prisons at West Virginia before moving to Arkansas, where he faced the task of not only running the penitentiary, but fighting the public relations war that Murton had intensified. Murton had his revenge on Rockefeller and his administration. The book was a detailed and scathing indictment of Rockefeller, state officials and the enemies of prison reform.
Change could not come from the top down. In addition to writing a best seller, Murton testified in before the U. Senate committee on juvenile delinquency.
Arkansas at the time had no age limit for inmates thus, boys as young as 14 could be thrown in with adult, hardened criminals. Before the Senate, Murton drew similarities between the modern-day prisons in Arkansas and the slave plantations. Sarver, too, testified before the Senate. He, however, fared worse than Murton did before the committee. Thomas J. Dodd D-Conn. Murton persisted in telling his story, and whatever his accomplishments in reforming the prison, he was skilled at using the media to help him.
He had Cavett convinced that there were many more bodies buried at Cummins. Bad news for Arkansas kept coming. In February , federal Judge J. Smith Henley ruled in the second of two decisions in the landmark Holt v. Sarver case Holt was attorney Lawrence J. The Holt v. Sarver decision seemed to vindicate Murton. But unable to find a job in the prisons, Murton settled into academic jobs.
He spent most of the s at the University of Minnesota. In , Murton was interviewed by Playboy magazine. In the interview, he had another opportunity to articulate his vision of American prisons and the need to reduce recidivism. But what about the Cummins skeletons? In April , the Arkansas Gazette reported that Dr. Clyde C. Snow, a friend of medical examiner Carlton and a forensic anthropologist with the Civil Aeromedical Institute of Oklahoma City, said he had studied the Cummins skeletons for a year.
Snow could only theorize about who the men were and how and when they had died. Given the age of the bodies, they were likely inmates who had been buried generations before they were dug up. Snow said he could not determine what exactly the nature of the cemetery was based on only three skeletons, but he kept working on the skeleton mystery.
In , at a meeting of the Arkansas Historical Association in Helena, Snow gave a paper in which he challenged the idea that the bodies unearthed at Cummins had been murdered. Snow, however, never published his findings. The mystery continued. The movie starred Robert Redford as an Ohio prison reformer, a role based on Murton, who worked as a historical consultant to the film.
Murton made no money from the movie, but it was profitable, garnered positive reviews and earned an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. The states were still struggling to achieve compliance with the Holt v. Sarver decision.
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For additional information: Aviv, Rachel. Crosley, Clyde. House, Lamar. Arkansas Times January : 2629, 80, 8286, 88; February : 4245, 65 Jackson, Bruce. Killing Time: Life inside the Arkansas Penitentiary.
Pictures from a Drawer: Prison and the Art of Portraiture. Woodward, Colin Edward. Honor or memorial gifts are an everlasting way to pay tribute to someone who has touched your life.
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The Cummins Unit (formerly known as Cummins State Farm) is an Arkansas Department of Correction prison located near Grady, Arkansas. This prison farm opened in and sits . Cummins Unit. 28 miles south of Pine Bluff, off Highway 65 in Lincoln Co. Delta Regional Unit. 50 miles southeast of Pine Bluff in Chicot Co. East Arkansas Regional Unit. Approximately 17 . Correction; Community Correction; Boards & Commissions. Board of Corrections; Parole Board; Sentencing Commission; Criminal Detention Facilities Review Committees; Sex Offender .