California to Desegregate Prisons

Prison officials in California are uneasy, as they embark on a program to desegregate the states' prisons to comply with a Supreme Court decision.

California's prison population is combustible, divided roughly evenly among three groups: 38% of inmates are Hispanic, 29% are black and 27% white. Recent race-related prison violence in Southern California has focused concerns about thrusting inmates together in biracial cells. For more than a month now, clashes of black and Latino prisoners have gripped Los Angeles county jails, resulting in two deaths and more than 100 injuries.

Opponents of desegregation say racial separation is necessary to prevent violence. Those in favor of the plan say it will assist in preparing inmates to reenter society.

Supporters of desegregation say it is the correctional system's responsibility to foster better relations among inmates. "You want to de-emphasize race, not give power to the instinct to use race," says Margo Schlanger, a professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, who specializes in incarceration litigation.

Texas introduced desegregation years ago and violence decreased. California will model its plan after the one in Texas.

It involves educating prison officers and prisoners and a screening process to weed out inmates whose criminal record or prison history would make them a bad risk for a multiracial cell. One California facility is testing a behavior-modification program that would deny privileges to inmates who undermine the program.

California has other severe prison problems, primarily overcrowding and a lack of guards due to budgetary contraints that may make the plan not operate as smoothly as in Texas.

The California Institute for Men in Chino houses 6,500 felons -- more than double its capacity. On a recent Wednesday morning, eight correctional officers were guarding about 500 inmates on the yard, a ratio that isn't unusual, says Terry Thornton, a communications official for the California corrections department.

One thing is for sure -- other states will be watching to see what happens in California.

< Will Al Gore Come Back for 2008? | DNA Frees Texas Man After 18 Years >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    Re: California to Desegregate Prisons (none / 0) (#1)
    by Slado on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 06:50:02 AM EST
    I keep hearing that it's budgetary problems but isn't one of the major reasons that country sheriffs are required to work in the prison for their first two or three years before working on the street and that most simply don't want to? Also why should the state be forced to desegregate when you know that it will result in violence? This is a gang issue not a race issue. Can they segregate based on gang involvement?

    Re: California to Desegregate Prisons (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 07:15:46 AM EST
    They tend to be one and the same, slado.

    Re: California to Desegregate Prisons (none / 0) (#3)
    by Patrick on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 08:34:23 AM EST
    Sheriff's Departments run county jails, not state prisons. Most counties in California have correctional officers, but few, like Los Angeles, have deputies working in the jails. Correctional officers are hired for the specific purpose of working custody assignments. Deputies are hired for law enforcement and custody can be a component, but it is usually not a desired position. Just thought that would help clear it up. If Texas experienced a decrease in violence with desegregation then perhaps there is merit to the proposal, although to me it seems counterintuitive.

    Re: California to Desegregate Prisons (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 03:16:41 PM EST
    If it worked in Texas, it will work in CA, and authorities are obliged. It worked in Texas. Therefore, authorities are obliged.