Prison guards claim 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, a newspaper reported Wednesday.
Correctional officers and inmates told The Press-Enterprise of Riverside that segregation is rampant throughout the system, despite state attorneys’ contention that it is limited to inmates’ first 60 days behind bars.
“There is no way I’d put a white and a black together,” said Charles Hughes, a lieutenant at California State Prison in Lancaster. “I’d be putting my job on the line if I did that.”
The newspaper reported that one correctional officer filed a whistleblower complaint with the state auditor last month, saying the state presented false arguments to the high court in November in a lawsuit filed by inmate Garrison Johnson.
Johnson, who is black, claims his 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law was violated by the prison system’s racial segregation policies.
‘Reception center’ division
California Senior Assistant Attorney General Frances 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.”
‘We segregate permanently’
Six correctional officers told The Press-Enterprise, however, that racial segregation in cell assignments and other aspects of prison life is essentially demanded by the inmates, who are ruled by prison gang leaders and divided along racial lines.
“It’s all about segregation. It’s all we do,” Hughes said. “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.”
The state attorney general’s office revisited the issue after Johnson’s attorney, Bert Deixler, said Lockyer and Grunder may have misled the court, attorney general spokesman Nathan Barankin said. The office checked into the matter and was assured by the corrections department that segregation is temporary, he said.
Officials deny practice
“No one we’ve spoken with at the California Department of Corrections said those facts aren’t accurate,” Barankin said.
Though race is used as one of the factors to assign inmates to their permanent cells, the policy does not amount to segregation, Barankin said. He said it was not segregation because housing policies allow inmates to ask to live with an inmate of their choice.
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.