The U.S. Justice Department says that inmates at two Arkansas prisons “experienced deliberate indifference towards their serious medical needs” and had “inadequate protection” from physical harm and sexual misconduct, reports the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
In a report issued yesterday, federal authorities described inadequate health and safety precautions at the McPherson and Grimes units in Newport that amount to “unconstitutional conditions.” Inmates lived in unsanitary and unsafe conditions, the Justice Department concluded. McPherson is the state's only women's prison, and Grimes houses young men.
Larry Norris, director of the state Department of Correction said conditions were not so egregious as federal officials contend. He acknowledged some failings by previous management of the prisons. Wackenhut Corrections Corp., a private company, operated the Grimes and McPherson units from 1998 until July 2001. “We know that we had some problems up there, and we were working on them when [investigators] were up there, and we have continued to work on them since,” Norris said. “Some of [the report] we agree with. Some of it we don't.”
St. Louis-based Correctional Medical Services began providing for Grimes and McPherson in July 2001. The state pays the company $32 million per year to care for 13,000 inmates in Arkansas' 18 correctional units. McPherson was designed to house about 600 women, but during the federal inspection it held about 700. Grimes houses about 600 men ages 16 to 24.