California prisons will reportedly end the policy of imposing racially based lockdowns following a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates.
Officers have frequently locked inmates in their cells based on which races were involved in the riot, even if individual inmates of that race were not directly involved. But according to a settlement reached Wednesday, future lockdowns will no longer be based on race or ethnicity. And all inmates in a certain section where there had been violence, and specific individuals or gangs that officers believe were involved, will be subject to restrictions.
The agreement to end the practice is detailed in a 21-page settlement involving a lawsuit first filed back in 2008. According to the agreement, future lockdowns may not be imposed or lifted based on race or ethnicity.
Moreover the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation also agreed to provide inmates with opportunities for outdoor exercise every time a lockdown is to last longer than 14 days.
“We see this as a tremendous result,” Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the non-profit Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, said in an email. She previously explained that no other state has a similar lockdown policy. California prison officials usually impose more than 600 lockdowns in a typical year, with at least 200 based on the race of the inmates, she said.
Some prisons in California have utilized a system of color-coded signs that hang over prison cells: blue for black inmates; white for white; red, green or pink for Hispanic; and yellow for everyone else. According to a report from ProPublica, on any given day the sign system could mean that prisoners of a certain race have the opportunity to use the exercise yard, while others would remain confined to their cells.
This is a long desired goal to reach as far as the issue of prison discrimination is concerned. For instance, in a 2005 Supreme Court ruling, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote: “When government officials are permitted to use race as a proxy for gang membership and violence … society as a whole suffers.”
A report from the Public Policy Institute of California explains that African-Americans are dramatically more likely to be incarcerated in the state’s prisons, with a rate of 5,525 incarcerated per 100,000, compared to 1,146 for Latinos, 671 for non-Latino whites and 43 for Asians.
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