NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 3, 2008

California is about to begin desegregating its prison cells, and this worries inmates and prison officials alike, says the Wall Street Journal.

For years, California used race as a criterion when initially designating cellmates.  The unwritten policy aimed to avoid interracial tensions among gang members. 

Then in 2005, after a 10-year legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California's prisons could no longer use race to determine cell assignments.  California will now follow an integration plan modeled on one drawn up by Texas, which desegregated its prison cells after it was successfully sued in the 1970s.

According to California's new integration policy:

  • California will use a ranking system based on an inmate's tolerance of other races.
  • After interviews and the examination of case files and criminal trial records, the state plans to pair eligible inmates.
  • Prisoners who decline to cooperate will lose some of their privileges and be subject to disciplinary actions.
  • Some of the more disruptive inmates will be placed in solitary jail cells.

More than 10,000 inmates belong to an array of gangs in California's prisons, which run primarily along racial lines.  Prison officials say race-based cellmate paring has been one of the more effective tools at stopping violence.

Clashes between racial groups have been a constant problem, says the Journal.  One of the largest occurred in 2006, when a riot erupted between 2,000 black and Latino prisoners at the Pitchess Detention Center.  One inmate died and 50 others were injured.

Source: Bobby White, "California To Desegregate Prison Cells, After Long Legal Battle," Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2008.

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