Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in History


Arch Dalrymple III Department of History

First Advisor

Charles Reagan Wilson

Second Advisor

Kirk Johnson

Third Advisor

Charles K. Ross

Relational Format



The following dissertation discusses the United States Federal Court judicial reform of prison farms in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana. More specifically, it examines the judicial and legislative history of the historic reform that includes the role of the individual judges that presided over the years of legislation necessary to bring Constitutional reforms to the state prison systems of the South. The judges and states in this study include J. Henley Smith of Arkansas, William C. Keady of Mississippi, and E. Gordon West of Louisiana. The research outlines an important aspect of the court system and the struggle between states and the federal government to create a constitutional prison system. Some of these constitutional defects related to substandard living conditions, prison officials not providing for the safety of inmates, the prevention of prisoner complaints reaching the courts, and the segregation of African American inmates from whites within the prison structure. A number of primary resources provided the bulk of the research, including the use of judicial archives, the individual judges' papers, court documents such as motions and prisoner petitions, and biographies of the individual judges. The judges' court opinions, as well as archival information relating to their lives before they reached the bench as well as their work from the federal courts, contributed to this study. These sources helped construct the most exhaustive and complete judicial and legislative history of the reform of three state prison farm systems in the United State South after the segregation era. In numerous ways, the federal prisons began their own transformation after the desegregation of other institutions in American society. This work traces that history and it also discusses the work of these three judges in bringing about the first such federal court reform of state prison systems to ever occur in the United States. It would set up the eventual federal judicial control of dozens of other state and territorial prison systems. The research also leads to the discovery that the judges possessed a unique "judicial personality" which influenced their specific methodology. These judicial personalities reflected the society they grew up in, the legal training they received, and their particular legal careers leading up to the bench. In addition, the society that surrounded this prison litigation, namely a southern political attitude that accepted harsh prison conditions for the good of the state, as well as a southern body politic already disenchanted by the desegregation of many areas of public life, also affected the role of the judges during said litigation. The dissertation enhances the current scholarship of federal judicial prison reform by presenting a geographically specific study focusing on the particular role of the judges in the litigation. The work also brings the study of the federal judge out of the realm of legal scholarship and criminal justice into the field of history and larger historical studies of the rising Carceral state in the United States during the latter half of the twentieth century.



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