December 20, 2005


Prisons to Curtail Racial Segregation: State officials will phase in a new policy in which race will be considered along with gang ties and personal histories in assigning housing. (Jill Leovy, December 20, 2005, LA Times)

California state prisons will end long-standing policies of segregating prisoners solely along racial lines under the terms of a legal settlement announced Monday.

For 25 years, California prisons have segregated the tens of thousands of inmates who arrive each year at the system's reception centers. Prisoners are segregated for at least their initial 60 days in custody. No other state has a similar policy, state officials have conceded.

Under the new policy, race may still be used as a factor in separating prisoners — a white supremacist, for example, would probably not be housed with a black inmate — but it will no longer be the primary criterion, state prison officials said. [...]

Prison officials say that there will be no wholesale movement of prisoners to bring about desegregation. Instead, the mixing of prisoners by race will occur as new inmates enter the system and current ones are transferred, gradually blurring the racial lines within prisons.

Thornton said prison officials are not seeking to meet any particular integration goal. "Prison gangs are aligned along racial lines, and many confrontations among inmates are race-based," she said. But prison officials believe the new policy will bring more careful evaluation of the various factors that lead to prison violence.

In fact, Johnson's lawsuit was a direct challenge to the idea that prisoners were safer if housed with those of their own race, Deixler said.

Prison segregation policies are flawed because a great deal of underworld violence occurs between people of the same race, Deixler argued. Rivalries between the predominantly black Crips and Bloods, for example, claim numerous lives on the street, he said.

Deixler's client was a black man jailed for murder in 1987 who was not a member of any gang, court papers said. Being housed with other black men, most of whom belonged to gangs, left Johnson feeling defenseless — unable to form alliances with prisoners who, like himself, were unaffiliated with gangs.

"He was a lone wolf who did not have a prospect for having protection," Deixler said. He sought an integrated prison setting because he wanted peers who would back him against the black gang members he found so menacing, he added.

Eventually this will just lead to greater isolation (and the concomitant psychological devastation) for all prisoners, since they're segregated for their own protection. As Pete Earley says in his terrific book, The Hot House:
The Aryan Brotherhood was originally formed to protect white prisoners from being victimized by black and Hispanic prison gangs. The Black Guerilla Family, a militant, black revolutionary gang with ties to the Black Panther Party, was the first known prison gang, and was strong at San Quentin at the time. [...]

The politically motivated Black Guerilla Family was eventually replaced by the 1980s drug-dealing Crips and Bloods.

Race wars and segregation in prisons, just one more thing Tookie Willians achieved.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Ahh Tookie, the give that keeps on giving.......

Posted by: Sandy P at December 20, 2005 10:01 AM

First, to avoid this you're going to have to kill all prisoners, no matter what their crimes.

Second, operating a gang out of a prison cell is as old as Al Capone and Frank Nitti.

Posted by: bplus at December 20, 2005 10:34 AM

How do they propose to protect the new prisoners who they throw in with those of a different race?

The first white dude thrown into the black section or black dude in with the AB is gonna be in big big trouble.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at December 20, 2005 11:06 AM


What's the downside?

Posted by: oj at December 20, 2005 12:20 PM

What's the downside?

Well, first off there's let just say somebody like Martha Stewart...err hmmn nevermind, I see your point.

Posted by: h-man at December 20, 2005 3:22 PM