Headline: California prisons to integrate inmates within cells
Layercake: Officials will begin implementing policy July 1
By ALI EDNEY
Aggie News Writer
Racism and racial tensions in the world of the incarcerated are visible, tangible and dangerous. This angry fact is one that has led prison officials to house inmates with members of their same race with the hope of quelling tensions and reducing violent instances.
Beginning July 1, prisons will start to organize cells differently, using a system that will not use race as the primary deciding factor in housing.
An inmate named Garrison Johnson in 2000 filed a lawsuit arguing that segregation in the prison system was a violation of his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of U.S. Constitution.
The trial was taken to a Supreme Court, sent back to a lower court and the parties settled. In the settlement, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation agreed to begin integrating inmates’ cells.
Female inmates in California are already integrated, so the change in policy will only affect the male population.
“It is the intent of the department to ensure that housing practices are made consistent with the safety, security, treatment and rehabilitative needs of the inmate, as well as the safety and security of the public, staff and institutions,” said CDCR staff in a report on the policy.
Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the CDCR, said the department will use a new coding system to determine which inmates are eligible for integration.
“A candidate will not be a victim or a perpetrator of a racially motivated crime,” Thornton said. “We’re not going to go in there and throw a member of the Aryan Brotherhood in with a Crip.”
Inmates will be interviewed, and all paperwork and files available will be read in order to develop an understanding of the inmate’s history with racially motivated crimes, Thornton said. If nothing is found, the inmate is deemed racially eligible. If a history is found, the inmate will be given one of four restriction codes: restricted partially, restricted to own, restricted temporarily or restricted by refusal. Those inmates who refuse to be integrated for personal reasons not backed by any documentation will be subject to disciplinary action, she said.
“It isn’t just race that we’re looking at,” Thornton said. “[We’re] looking at their history, not subjectively, but with evidence and documented material.”
An inmate’s medical history, the length of his sentence, height, weight and age are all factors to be considered as well.
Two facilities will begin the housing integration plan on July 1 – Mule Creek State Prison and The Sierra Conservation Center. An advisory team will monitor the two prisons closely, and once an understanding of how the system will work is established, the rest of California’s minimum security facilities will begin the project. On Jan. 1, 2009 the policy will be applied to the rest of California’s prison facilities.
Carter White, a civil rights attorney at the UC Davis School of Law, said the new approach may have serious consequences.
“I have talked to people in prison, and there is resistance there,” he said. “Cultural divisions have existed for many years, cultural divisions that officials have helped promote.”
Any change would be complicated and difficult to carry out in the prison system, White said.
“This is going to be very dangerous,” he said. “There is resistance from within. There are many episodes that arise from racial conflict, and this will potentially make opportunities for more of it.”
Nonetheless, White said he recognizes that his fears are similar to those people had after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.