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Nation within a NationThe American South and the Federal Government$
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Glenn Feldman

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780813049878

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813049878.001.0001

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Lighting the “Dark and Evil World”

Lighting the “Dark and Evil World”

Judge J. Smith Henley, Arkansas, and the Federal Judiciary's Reform of the Southern Prison

(p.287) 10 Lighting the “Dark and Evil World”
Nation within a Nation

Gregory L. Richard

University Press of Florida

Gregory L. Richard focuses on federal penal reform and the June 1969 decision of Arkansas federal district court Judge J. Smith Henley on the inhumane treatment of prisoners. Henley's decision, Richard informs us, launched a series of lawsuits that spanned over two decades and resulted in the District Court's declaration that the entire Arkansas prison system was unconstitutional: it violated the eighth amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual” punishment. Richard stresses the life and thinking of Henley because, though a federal decision, it was also the fruit of a distinctly southern worldview. This was important as the Arkansas decision served as the model for review of over thirty-five state prison systems and much of the subsequent penal reform in the United States. Henley's view of federalism had no problem with federal judges “making law”—as they were often accused of doing. The trick was to be moderate, reasonable, and act as an administrator—rather than compelling people to institute pre-conceived reforms and appointing administrators from outside the court to ensure directives were executed.

Keywords:   Judge J. Smith Henley, Arkansas, Penal Reform, “Cruel and Unusual Punishment”, Federalism, Eighth Amendment

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