|Elevation||177 ft (54 m)|
|Time zone||Central (CST) (UTC-6)|
|• Summer (DST)||CDT (UTC-5)|
|GNIS feature ID||64050
GNIS for prison building: 82008
The Cummins Unit (formerly known as Cummins State Farm) is an Arkansas Department of Correction prison in unincorporated Lincoln County, Arkansas, United States, in the Arkansas Delta region. It is located along U.S. Route 65, near Grady, Gould, and Varner, 28 miles (45 km) south of Pine Bluff, and 60 miles (97 km) southeast of Little Rock.
This prison farm is a 16,500-acre (6,700 ha) correctional facility. The prison first opened in 1902 and has a capacity of 1,725 inmates. Cummins housed Arkansas's male death row until 1986, when it was transferred first to the Tucker Maximum Security Unit. The State of Arkansas execution chamber is located in the Cummins Unit, adjacent to the location of the male death row, the Varner Unit. The female death row is located at the McPherson Unit. Cummins is one of the state of Arkansas's "parent unit"s for male prisoners; it serves as one of several units of initial assignment for processed male prisoners.
In 1902 the State of Arkansas purchased about 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of land for $140,000 ($3829000 when adjusted for inflation) to build the Cummins Unit. The prison was established during that year, and prisoners began occupying the site in December. The prison occupied the former Cummins and Maple Grove plantations.
Then-Governor of Arkansas Jeff Davis wanted the state to buy a farm in Jefferson County owned by Louis Altheimer, a Republican Party leader who was Davis's friend. When the legislature instead purchased the land for Cummins, Davis put up political opposition, trying to force the state to cancel the purchase.
In 1933 Governor Junius Marion Futrell closed the Arkansas State Penitentiary ("The Walls"), and some prisoners moved to Cummins from the former penitentiary. Since the establishment of the prison, it had housed African-American men and women. Beginning in 1936, White male prisoners with disciplinary problems were housed at Cummins. As of 1958, most prisoners worked in farming, producing cotton, livestock, and vegetables. The prison, during that year, housed clothing and lumber manufacturing facilities. In 1951 White female prisoners were moved from the Arkansas State Farm for Women to Cummins.
On September 5, 1966, riots occurred at Cummins. 144 prisoners attempted a strike, and Arkansas State Police ended the strike with tear gas. In 1970 some prisoners asking for segregated housing started a riot, leading to the intervention of state police.
In 1972 Arkansas's first prison rodeo was held at the Cummins Unit. In 1974 death row inmates, previously at the Tucker Unit, were moved to the Cummins Unit. In 1976 female inmates were moved from the Cummins Unit to the Pine Bluff Unit. In 1978 a new execution chamber opened at Cummins Unit. In 1983 the Cummins Modular Unit opened. In 1986 death row inmates were moved to the Maximum Security Unit. In 1991 the vocational technology program moved from the Cummins Unit to the Varner Unit. In 2000 Arkansas's first lethal electrified fence, built with inmate labor, opened at the Cummins Unit.
A tornado affected the Cummins Unit facility in May 2011. It damaged the dairy facility, the chicken and swine houses, and the employee housing in the Free Line area. The tornado destroyed the prison's three green houses. It also turned over a center pivot irrigation system.
In 1968, Tom Murton alleged that three human skeletons found on the farm were the remains of inmates who had been subjected to torture, prompting a publicized investigation which found "a prison hospital served as torture chamber and a doctor as chief tormentor."
The revelations included allegations of electrical devices connected to the genitalia of inmates. The Arkansas State Penitentiary System at that time had already been found to have held inmates at the Cummins Unit under conditions rising to the level of unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment, in cases tried by the US District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, among others.
"Certain characteristics of the Arkansas prison system serve to distinguish it from most other penal institutions in this country. First, it has very few paid employees; armed trusties ["trusted" inmates, according to the source] guard rank and file inmates and trusties perform other tasks usually and more properly performed by civilian or "free world" personnel. Second, convicts not in isolation are confined when not working, and are required to sleep at night in open dormitory type barracks in which rows of beds are arranged side by side; there are large numbers of men in each barracks. Third, there is no meaningful program of rehabilitation whatever at Cummins; while there is a promising and helpful program at Tucker, it is still minimal."
Cummins has about 16,500 acres (6,700 ha) of land.
A white building is and has been referred to the past as the prison's "barracks." The "telephone-pole" style structure serves as a housing unit for prisoners. The building had eight units. In the past, one was reserved for White trustees, one for Black trustees, and others for other prisoners. The housing units were racially segregated.
The prison includes the "Free Line," the prison residences for free world employees, including the warden, several prison officials, and their families; prisoners work as house servants in the Free Line. Children living on the prison property are zoned to the Dumas School District.
In the past the main entrance to the prison was at the terminus of a road off of the main highway. The main gate consisted of a wooden structure behind a chicken wire fence, which had barbed wire on top. A trusty shooter manned the main entrance. In past eras, the prison housed a commissary and did not house educational facilities, prison factories, or medical and dental clinics.
The Cummins/Varner Volunteer Fire Department provides fire services to the Cummins Unit property. The station is inside the Cummins Unit property, along Arkansas Highway 388. In the financial year 2010 the Arkansas Department of Correction spent $81,691 on the fire station.
As of 2006, the Cummins Unit has the largest farming operation in the Arkansas Department of Correction system. At Cummins, over 16,000 acres (6,500 ha) of land is devoted to production of crops and farm goods, including cash crops, hay, livestock, and vegetables. As of 2001 prisoners harvest corn, cotton, and rice from the fields and are supervised by prison guards mounted on horses.
Cummins previously housed the Special Management Barracks, a unit for prisoners with counseling and mental health requirements. In 2008 it moved to the Randall L. Williams Correctional Facility.
Prisoners at Cummins attend the correctional school system.
In the past, each prisoner worked for 10 hours per day, six days per week in the fields. Prisoners were only excused if the outside temperature was below freezing. Some prisoners who were sent to the fields lacked shoes. Prisoners did not have fixed quotas. Instead they were told to do as much work as possible. Prisoners deemed to be not doing enough work were beaten.
Trustee prisoners had authority over other prisoners. At night, all except for two of the free world prison guards left, so trustees kept the order during the night. Prisoners who were not trustees were sub-ranked as "do-pops" and "rankers." In past eras, trustee prisoners were responsible for the institution's perimeter security.
During the day, the prison barracks were empty since most prisoners worked on the fields. At night, the two free world employees patrolled the central corridor but did not venture into the barrack units. The trustees, armed with knives, kept the order at night. Some inmates, referred to as "crawlers" and "creepers," stabbed sleeping prisoners. Male on male rape frequently occurred in the housing units. The prison did not ask trustees to intervene in case of rape, and prison guards rarely intervened.
Prisoners did not receive payment for working in the fields. In order to buy items from the commissary, some prisoners worked there. Other prisoners sold their blood; a healthy prisoner was permitted to sell his blood once weekly.
Trustees were allowed to leave and re-enter the prison without undergoing searches, so trustees smuggled in alcohol, illegal drugs, and weapons; they then sold those items within the prison. Trustees usually bought these items from one another, since they had large amounts of money. Non-trustees, including "do-pops" and "rankers," had to pay trustees in order to get food, medicine, access to medical staff, access to outsiders, and protection from arbitrary prison punishments. Therefore non-trustees did not have large reserves of extra money.
- Trusty system
- Gates v. Collier
- List of law enforcement agencies in Arkansas
- List of United States state correction agencies
- List of U.S. state prisons
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- Barnes, Royl S. Facts, Figures, and Functions of Arkansas State and Local Government. Hurley Co., 1957. 182. Retrieved from Google Books on March 6, 2011. "Arkansas maintains three penitentiary units: the Women's Reformatory at Cummins near Gould; one near Tucker for white men, known as the Tucker Farm; and the other near Gould, for Negro men and women, known as the Cummins Farm."
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- "2012 Billy Max Moore Award Winner: David L. Allen." (Archive) The Advocate. Arkansas Department of Correction. December 2012. p. 9. Retrieved on April 16, 2013. "In May 2011, a tornado hit the Cummins Farm, devastating the employees‘ free line housing, dairy facility, swine and chicken houses; turning over a center pivot irrigation system; and completely destroying three green houses."
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|Arkansas historical photos - Arkansas Department of Correction|