Group Sues Calif. Over Race-Based Prison Lockdowns

SACRAMENTO (AP) — California’s use of race as a basis for locking prisoners in their cells after fights amounts to illegal discrimination and should be banned, attorneys representing inmates said in a class-action lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The policy unfairly punishes innocent inmates simply because they have the same color skin as those involved in the violence, the nonprofit Prison Law Office said in its suit, filed in federal court in Sacramento.

Terry Thornton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said lockdowns are sometimes necessary to protect safety and security. It is not the department’s policy to base lockdowns and other restrictions solely on race or ethnicity, she said.

However, a proposed revision to the department’s lockdown policy says inmates often organize themselves based on race or geographical area. The policy acknowledges that some uninvolved inmates may be affected, but it is the department’s goal to get them back to a normal routine as soon as possible.

Rebekah Evenson, an attorney with the Berkeley-based Prison Law Office, said the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a similar argument in 2005 when it told the state to end its policy of housing inmates based on their race. The high court and other states have found that such race-based policies encourage violence by splitting inmates along racial lines, Evenson said.

There were about 350 complete or partial race-based lockdowns annually in the California’s 30 male prisons in recent years, according to the lawsuit.

The lockdowns averaged two months in which inmates were generally denied visitors, exercise and educational programs. Four prisons imposed lockdowns lasting longer than a year, and eight had lockdowns exceeding 200 days.

The class-action lawsuit was amended into a 2008 suit originally filed by an individual inmate who was seeking monetary damages for being confined to his cell.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • dave

    use them as workers in japans nuke plants

  • rjsmitty

    Race Based Hate Group sues prison over lock down.

  • Common sense

    A bunch of ignorant do gooders. Go ahead, mix the races. Who’s going to clean up the dead bodies? Prisons are full of racists.

    • Jethrie Smith

      The world is full of racists….white power!

    • bsc

      In LA many Latino gangs have an order to shoot on sight when they see a rival black gang member in their area. Maybe the same is true for black gangs. So what do you think happens when they get to prison?

      Also many high school black/Latino race riots are instigated by gang members but then spread to everyone else on campus.

  • dumb tax payer

    Wow what idiots. Oh and by the way those of a certain race who wouldnt be locked down at a time like this would be forced by there race to commit crimes or pay for it by beat down, shanked or even death.
    Dear California stop wasting our money on Bs and new laws. Why dont you try enforcing the ones already in place

  • a daughter in waiting

    Yes the prisoners are there for a reason but that does not make them less human. Think of the ones who are in there for things like writing or forging checks, or stealing food to eat out of dumpsters. They deserve to be treated with some decency. Being held in a cell the size of a closet for up to 200 days will not “reform” anyone as the prisons claimed they are used for instead it will just drive people who were not violent to begin with a little nuts and the nuts full blown crazy. The majority of these prisoners have families who have NOT committed a crime. Children who have to go without seeing mom or dad for months because of prison lockdowns due to Mexican, white, black race rioting and fighting. Who else should speak up for the families of these people?

    • J daniles

      Then maybe they should not break the law if they don’t want to go to prison. Prison is not a vacation, it is a feared place where the evil gather and the wicked plan. get rid of the lifers and make room for others whom committed a mistake in life. Even a shot caller for a gang can continue to call shots from prison, they are still head of the gang. these people have only changed geography. “If you cant do the time, dont do the crime”.

  • dumb tax payer

    A daughter in waiting you are seeing a side of it from the outside. If you have not been in there you would not understand the truth. No matter what race you are you better be true to your race or you will pay. The only time this may not be true is if you are a level 1 inmate at maybe a CCF. Otherwise this would be a bigger blood bath than you can imagine. Would also lead to someone there for say 1 year catching a new case (possible murder, assualt on staff or inmate) that means your loved one just caught a new case and will be there 3-10 years now.

  • TheWindrunner

    Savages should be kept with savages, so the strong cannot eat the weak. Skin color is a marker for civility, and should be used intelligently.

  • dumb tax payer

    Either way if you cant do the time dont do the crime. And I can guarantee you that no one made it to doing state time for taking food out of a garbage can.


    we know those guys are bad…they are in prison!, what is worrisome is the thoughts that run through your heads! You guys are the free ones that have an opinoin i get it but the way some of you think is just criminal as well. What are YOU capable of out there in “leave a comment” country. what exactly is the perfect scociety you need? What do you think you would change into? Pope’s and nuns? of course not…that too would be criticized. I wish we were all blind, but then again..knowing “US”…we’d probably start hating peoples voices. Get a life folks, understand that sometimes your the pigoen and sometimes your the statue….but try not to be what the pigeon excretes.

  • J. daniels

    here here, I agree

  • Jack Meyhoffer

    How stupid is this lawsuit? If you mix the races in prison, you will have more violence. Stop wasting time, money, and resources with this frivilous lawsuit.

  • krg

    These attorneys should be held accountable for a frivolous lawsuit that is just wasting MORE taxpayer money. The reasoning behind these lockdowns is a proven FACT and is not racial profiling. It’s the truth in every single prison in this country. These are big boys who wanted to play with the big dogs. Now they get to suffer for it. No sadness from me.

  • Not newsworthy

    We would see how you would talk if u were in these peoples disposition. There are a lot of good people in jail that are there innocent, or guilty by association. The prison is the new plantation for the state

  • Chris

    Mexican Mafia put out kill orders for blacks – any in retaliation for street killings of Mexicans by black gangsters. That’s the facts.Who are the complaining prisoners here?

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