Guards say state officials lied about segregation in prisons

Los Angeles Daily News
Inmates, correctional officers say racial separation policies are rampant

By Associated Press

Saturday, January 22, 2005 – RIVERSIDE — Prison guards say state officials lied to the U.S. Supreme Court about racial segregation in California’s prisons and the extent to which race is used to set prison policies.

The accusations stem from arguments presented last November before the high court. In a lawsuit against the state, black inmate Garrison S. Johnson, who is serving 35 years for murder, claimed his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law was violated by the prison system’s racial segregation policies.

One correctional officer filed a whistle-blower complaint in December with the state auditor challenging the testimony by state officials.

The officer claimed Attorney General Bill Lockyer and officials with the California Department of Corrections lied about the extent race is used to set prison policies.

Other correctional officers and inmates corroborated his claim.

California Senior Assistant Attorney General Frances T. Grunder told the high court that racial segregation is limited to “reception center” housing of inmates during their first 60 days at a prison. They are initially segregated to determine their propensity for racial violence, lawyers told the court.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer said that, beyond the reception centers, prison inmates are fully integrated.

“All other aspects of an inmate’s life in prison both while at the reception center and afterward are managed without reference to his race or that of his fellow inmates,” Lockyer said in a court brief. “There is no distinction based on race for jobs, meals, yard and recreational time, or vocational and educational assignments.”

Inmates and correctional officers, however, said segregation is rampant.

“It’s all about segregation; it’s all we do,” said Charles Hughes, a lieutenant at California State Prison-Los Angeles County in Lancaster. “We segregate permanently and use race for job placement and everything, and for them to say otherwise is an absolute lie. And for them to lie to the Supreme Court is appalling.

“There is no way I’d put a white and a black together,” Hughes said. “I’d be putting my job on the line if I did that.”

Five other correctional officers, all presidents of their prisons’ union chapters, also said that, with few exceptions, inmates are assigned cellmates and dorm-room bunkmates by race.

Inmates and prison officials said racial segregation was essentially demanded by the inmates, who are ruled by prison gang leaders and divided along racial lines.

Johnson’s attorney, Bert H. Deixler, said racial segregation has abandoned the inmates to the control of the prison gangs.

“This unexamined, routine practice effectively erected whites-only, blacks-only, Hispanics-only signs over the portals of the California prison system, and it is a practice which is rooted in racial stereotype and the belief that all persons of a race think alike and act alike,” Deixler told the court.

Though race is used as one of the factors to assign inmates to their permanent cells, the policy does not amount to segregation, said Nathan Barankin, a spokesman for the state Attorney General’s Office. He said it was not segregation because housing policies allow inmates to ask to live with an inmate of their choice.

The U.S. Supreme Court case is Johnson v. California, 03-636.

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