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Case Name DOJ Investigation Re: McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units, Newport, Arkansas PC-AR-0012
Docket / Court NA ( No Court )
State/Territory Arkansas
Case Type(s) Prison Conditions
Case Summary
On May 8, 2002, the Department of Justice notified the McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units in Newport, Arkansas of its intent to investigate the prison pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997.

McPherson is the state's only women's ... read more >
On May 8, 2002, the Department of Justice notified the McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units in Newport, Arkansas of its intent to investigate the prison pursuant to the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997.

McPherson is the state's only women's prison. Built to house roughly 600 prisoners, it held approximately 700 at the time of the investigation. Grimes housed young men from 16-24 years of age. The units were part of a single complex. Both were comprised of barracks-style dormitories (which have been found unconstitutional as far back as 1970).

On July 23-26, August 20-23, and September 25-27, 2002, the DOJ conducted on-site inspections of each unit with consultants in the fields of correctional medical and mental health care, penology, sexual misconduct prevention, and environmental health and safety. While on-site, the DOJ interviewed the administrative and security staff, the medical and mental health care providers, and the inmates. The DOJ also reviewed the documentation regarding prison policies and procedures, incident reports, grievances, medical records, and the prison’s use of force records.

After an 18-month investigation, the DOJ found that conditions at the McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units were unconstitutional. According to the investigation report, dated November 25, 2003, investigators found that prisoners at both units experienced deliberate indifference to their serious medical needs, were not adequately protected from physical harm and sexual assault, and were exposed to unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

For example, one inmate who had recently undergone open-heart surgery was given Tylenol and sent back to his housing unit after he complained of chest pains. Another inmate complained of chest pains three times during a two-week period and was not referred to a doctor. Likewise, inmates who suffered from chronic diseases such as diabetes did not receive annual eye examinations necessary to detect retinal disease, which may result in otherwise preventable vision loss. The investigation further found that both facilities failed to adequately protect inmates from physical harm and sexual misconduct, as well as unsafe conditions. Hepatitis C treatment was not provided at either prison due to "fiscal efficacy," according to medical staff.

Acute care was a major problem at the McPherson women's prison. Arkansas Department of Corrections (ADC) policy requires prisoners to be seen within 24 hours of submitting a sick call request (SCR). Medical staff admitted the 24 hour requirement was rarely met, but insisted that most prisoners were seen within 72 hours. The investigation determined, however, that "virtually no one" was seen within 72 hours, and found instances of prisoners waiting as long as 2 or 3 weeks. Moreover, some prisoners actually received disciplinary reports because their symptoms disappeared before being seen. Acute care was further limited by McPherson's sick call hours of 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., which required prisoners, most of whom work, to choose between sleep and medical attention.

Investigators also found that prisoners with serious medical conditions were often "not referred to a doctor or a hospital in a timely manner," despite a CMS policy requiring prisoners to be seen by a doctor if they reported the same complaint twice. Moreover, no mechanism existed at either prison to ensure prisoners were referred to specialists when necessary. Medical staff could not even track many recommendations because they had not been recorded. (Findings Letter Re: McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units, Newport, Arkansas, November 25, 2003).

According to the report, one HIV positive prisoner with chest pains and shortness of breath waited two days to see a nurse, only to be sent back to her dorm after her appointment. She was hospitalized 12 hours later and found to have a potentially fatal HIV-related infection.

The deficiencies in medical care were exacerbated by inadequate staffing. For instance, Correctional Medical Services (CMS) employed only one doctor to treat the two units' 1,300 prisoners.

The investigation also revealed inadequate mental health care at both prisons. Investigators found that McPherson prisoners were generally not seen for 2-4 weeks after requesting mental health services, creating a risk that undiagnosed and untreated mentally ill prisoners could harm themselves or others. The mental health staff also failed to schedule regular appointments for prisoners even when clinically indicated, or to properly monitor prisoners taking psychotropic medication.

Contraband was a problem at both prisons. At Grimes, over the period of one month (June 2002), guards confiscated 14 shanks, one ice pick, and a box cutter. This failure to control contraband and a lack of oversight by guards allowed a prisoner to be stabbed in one of the barracks on April 4, 2002. No guards were present during the attack. While more security problems existed at the prisons, the report released to the public was heavily censored in this section.

Prisoners were not adequately protected at either prison, where lapses in supervision, privacy violations, and substandard investigations "create an atmosphere conducive to misconduct and abuse." Thirteen incidents of sexual misconduct or abuse were reported between July 2001 and August 2002, according to the report, which noted several specific instances. (Findings Letter Re: McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units, Newport, Arkansas, November 25, 2003).

Unsanitary and unsafe conditions existed in the food service programs of both prisons, but appeared to be worse at McPherson. At McPherson, investigators found that dishes, food trays, pots, and pans were not properly cleaned or sanitized. Moreover, inadequate hand washing facilities and a dearth of trashcans rendered guards and prisoners subject to disease. The walk-in coolers were dirty, one containing pools of blood from thawed meat. The walk-in freezer was also dirty.

The DOJ recommended a number of remedial measures to bring the prisons up to constitutional standards. For medical care these measures included increasing on-site physician coverage; providing sufficient staffing; implementing a quality improvement program; implementing programs to ensure that existing chronic care protocols are followed and that asthmatics receive inhalers and are allowed access to the infirmary; implementing policies and procedures for hepatitis C treatment; ensuring special needs prisoners are scheduled for and transported to outside consults and that the consultants' recommendations are followed; and enforcing existing dental care policy to provide full array of dental services.

Mental health care recommendations included ensuring that mental health staff make regular rounds in segregation and provide accurate diagnoses and timely implement treatment plans; ensuring that mental health requests are responded to in a timely manner and providing a confidential environment for testing and counseling where appropriate; ensuring adequate on-site psychiatrist supervision; improving monitoring and treatment of seriously mentally ill prisoners; providing appropriate housing for suicidal prisoners; implementing a quality improvement system; and ensuring the restraint chair is used appropriately.

Security and protection recommendations included providing adequate security staffing; installing security cameras; revising investigative procedures; "regularly reviewing grievances for allegations of sexual misconduct or harassment, and conducting full-scale investigations where appropriate"; and restricting unsupervised prisoner movement.

Sanitation recommendations included training kitchen workers in safety and food handling procedures and ensuring proper cleaning and sanitization of "dishes and utensils, food preparation and storage areas, and vehicles and containers used to transport food."

The State and CMS cooperated throughout the course of the DOJ's investigation and voluntarily continued to implement some measures to improve conditions at the Facilities that had begun prior to the DOJ's investigation. The parties enter into an agreement on August 27, 2004 for the purpose of avoiding the risks and burdens, costs, and diversion of personnel time and resources of potential litigation. They agreed to resolve of the issues identified in the DOJ's November 25, 2003 letter.

In terms of medical care, McPherson agreed to inform individual inmates of test results, consistent with generally accepted professional standards. The facilities agreed to provide on-site physician coverage to ensure the supervision of nursing staff and the provision of primary and chronic care that timely and appropriately meets the inmates' serious medical needs; continue to ensure that inmates who make sick call requests are seen in a timely manner; ensure that the implemented quality assurance system monitors the quality of medical care services and access to such care; continue to provide reasonable and necessary dental services; ensure that medical personnel are properly trained and supervised regarding emergency medical equipment and procedures, including AED and CPR, consistent with generally accepted professional standards.

For mental health care, the facilities agreed to continue to implement the policy that requires mental health staff to make regular rounds in the segregation units; provide accurate diagnoses; and timely implement treatment plans; respond to mental health requests in a timely manner; and provide an appropriate confidential environment for psychological testing and counseling; monitor and treat inmates with serious mental illness through regularly scheduled visits with mental health professionals; continue to conduct training for security staff on how to understand symptoms of mental illness and respond appropriately.

For security and supervision, the facilities agreed to provide adequate correctional officer staffing and supervision to ensure inmate safety; continue to ensure that inmate work areas are supervised whenever inmates are present; continue to ensure that cell doors cannot be opened at will; maintain security cameras in the intake, kitchen, laundry, muster room, program, and mess areas; provide appropriate training for investigators; ensure that established protocols for reporting and investigating sexual misconduct allegations.

This agreement was to be terminated two years after the effective date, or earlier if the State has substantially complied with each provision in the Agreement and has maintained such compliance for at least one year. The burden will be on the State to demonstrate this level of compliance.

The case was closed on March 27, 2007. In 2007, all ADC units and programs, including those at Newport, were fully accredited by the American Correctional Association.

Ginny Lee - 03/25/2017

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Affected Gender
Content of Injunction
Required disclosure
Assault/abuse by residents/inmates/students
Assault/abuse by staff
Classification / placement
Conditions of confinement
Failure to supervise
Failure to train
Fire safety
Food service / nutrition / hydration
Restraints : physical
Sanitation / living conditions
Sex w/ staff; sexual harassment by staff
Sexual abuse by residents/inmates
Staff (number, training, qualifications, wages)
Suicide prevention
Medical/Mental Health
Dental care
Medical care, general
Medical care, unspecified
Mental health care, general
Suicide prevention
Special Case Type
Type of Facility
Causes of Action Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997 et seq.
Defendant(s) Arkansas Department of Corrections
McPherson Correctional Unit
Plaintiff Description The U.S. Department of Justice
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Settlement
Form of Settlement Private Settlement Agreement
Order Duration 2004 - 2007
Filed 05/08/2002
Case Closing Year 2007
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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  Review of the Use of Monitors in Civil Settlement Agreements and Consent Decrees Involving State and Local Government Entities
U.S. Department of Justice
Date: 9/13/2021
By: Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assoc. AG Vanita Gupta (U.S. Department of Justice)
[ Detail ] [ PDF ] [ External Link ]

  An Analysis of CRIPA Findings Letters Issued to Jails for Constitutional Violations by the Department of Justice
Date: Apr. 15, 2016
By: Jeff Mellow, Bryce E. Peterson & Mijin Kim (John Jay College of Criminal Justice Faculty)
Citation: Am. J. Crim. Just. (April 2016)
[ Detail ] [ External Link ]

Court Docket(s)
No docket sheet currently in the collection
General Documents
not recorded
Re: McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units, Newport, Arkansas
PC-AR-0012-0001.pdf | Detail
not recorded
Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States and McPherson and Grimes Correctional Units
PC-AR-0012-0002.pdf | Detail
show all people docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers Acosta, R. Alexander (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Brown Cutlar, Shanetta Y. (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Coon, Laura (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Jakosa, Charles (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Jung, Je Yon (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Schlozman, Bradley (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Seltman, Lee (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Beebe, Mike (Arkansas) show/hide docs
PC-AR-0012-0001 | PC-AR-0012-0002
Cummins, H.E. Bud III (Arkansas) show/hide docs
PC-AR-0012-0001 | PC-AR-0012-0002
Kelley, Wendy L. (Arkansas) show/hide docs

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