Supreme Court: California Prisons Must Desegregate, fromhttp://www.totalcriminaldefense.com (June 2008)
More than half a century after the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. The
Board of Education that educational facilities cannot legally be racially
segregated, three states still have segregated prison systems. But, as the
Christian Science Monitor reports, that number will drop July 1st when
California integrates its prisons. Several decades after the civil rights
movement, it's somewhat shocking that the largest state prison system in the
United States still divides its inmates along racial and ethnic lines.
Apparently, that's what black inmate Garrison Johnson thought in 1995 when he
filed a lawsuit insisting that the racial segregation of California prisons
violated his constitutional
By 2004, Garrison's case had reportedly made its way to the
Supreme Court, where the justices agreed with him: the California prison system
would have to be racially integrated.
It seems the Court was
influenced by the desegregation of Texas prisons in the 1990s, which led to an
overall decrease in interracial violence after an initial spike. But some
skeptics are worried that, because of overcrowding
in California prisons, the violence won't drop off after it
Sources indicate that the Texas prison desegregation was successful
in part because prison authorities had the luxury of punishing inmates who
resisted by placing them in solitary confinement. Without adequate space to
discipline many inmates in such a way, some worry that California prison
officials won't be able to maintain control. Others, though, are hopeful.
According to reports, California inmates are currently placed with a
cellmate of the same race for their first 60 days of confinement. After that,
inmates are evidently allowed to choose an inmate, but most do so along racial
The strong presence of gangs, mostly formed by race or ethnicity,
apparently accounts for the choices of many inmates: to go outside ethnic lines
means risking retaliation from your own race.
In theory, California prisons
are desegregated beyond the initial cellmate assignment. In practice, though,
inmates in the dining hall, exercise yard and recreation areas reportedly choose
to interact mostly with others of the same race.
Sources report that
desegregation will involve screening new arrivals for histories of gang
affiliation, racial violence and willingness to integrate; members of rival
gangs won't be placed together. Current inmates will allegedly not be forced to
integrate, but will be punished with various sanctions if they refuse to do
Both inmates and guards are hopeful but nervous about the integration,
according to the San Francisco Chronicle. It seems that many believe that racial
integration is ultimately the best move for the prison system, but may cause
small fights, which often escalate into much bigger events.
*As of January 2013, most prisons in the California Department of Corrections system remain largely segregated by race and gang affiliation.