Following a six-year civil rights lawsuit, California has agreed this week to put an end to its use of race-based punishment as a tool to quell and control violence in the state’s overcrowded prisons. California is reportedly the only state in the nation to have used such a broad, ethnically-based policy to punish prison inmates.
Lawyers for inmates that were affected by the blanket approach said California was using race as a stand-in for gang involvement, which resulted in the unfair punishment of all prisoners from that same race who had done nothing wrong, according to the Los Angeles Times. The California Corrections Department reportedly began implementing the policy changes in May of this year. Prior to that, California’s corrections officers would restrict or punish all inmates of that same race or ethnicity in an attempt to prevent further violence.
The case was triggered by a 2006 incident in which two African-American inmates had attacked two prison guards at California’s High Desert State Prison, which in turn resulted in the lockdown of all African-American inmates for 14 months based solely on their race.
According to the settlement papers, the state has agreed to switch to a system that determines lockdown and punishment on a prisoner-by prisoner basis that considered behavior as well as whether an inmate is a member of, or aligned with, a prison gang, instead of using ethnicity or race.
Prison officials had reportedly used the argument that using race to implement lockdowns and other restrictions on inmates was an important safety tool in order to help them immobilize large segments of the prison’s population as they conducted investigations into who the aggressors were during riots and violent incidents, notes the Times.
The agreement is expected to be approved by a federal judge.