Californian jails end racial segregation

Forty years after the great civil rights battles in the American South, one of the last bastions of formal racial segregation in the United States is set to topple, following a Supreme Court ruling decrying the California prison system's practice of separating black, Latino and white inmates.

The nation's highest court said the principle at stake was the same that led to a landmark ruling in 1954 ordering school desegregation - the idea that there is no way to separate people and say meaningfully that they still enjoy equal rights under the law. "We rejected the notion that separate can ever be equal ... 50 years ago in Brown vs Board of Education," Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in the majority ruling, "and we refuse to resurrect it today."

The Supreme Court stopped short of declaring prison segregation to be unconstitutional, referring the case back to the federal appeals court. But the 25-year-old Californian policy of sorting inmates by race on admission to the prison system is almost certainly doomed - only the timing remains in doubt.

The case carries considerable significance since California has by far the largest state prison system in the US, with some 160,000 inmates, and has also grappled for the past 40 years with an explosion in violent, racially based prison gangs.

State prison officials argue that because the existence of gangs such as the Aryan Brotherhood, the Mexican Mafia and the Black Guerrilla Family, many of whose members they say would rape, assault or kill a member of a different race given half a chance, keeping them apart is the only way to prevent anarchy.

Proponents of desegregation, however, say race-based separation exacerbates the problem and deepens the inter-racial animus. "Indeed, evidence demonstrates that integrating inmates reduces all forms of prison violence," Senator Gloria Romero, who has been leading the anti-segregation charge, wrote recently.

Bert Deixler, the lawyer who took the case to the Supreme Court on behalf of a black inmate appalled by the blanket discrimination he found on entering prison, argued that the California policy was discriminatory and wrong-headed, since it relied on racial stereotyping to make certain assumptions about inmates.

"You can look at gang membership as a basis for special treatment," he said, "but you can't look at people coming off the bus and say, 'Blacks go through that door and whites go through the other door'. This policy assumes if you are of a certain race, you have a penchant for interracial violence."

Nobody is underestimating the bewildering problem of California's prison gang culture, which is a reflection of and a breeding ground for street gangs in Los Angeles, Oakland and elsewhere. The Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme, dates back to the 1950s, and is now a thriving presence on the streets as well as behind bars, involved in drug trafficking, money-laundering, prostitution and many other rackets.

Its main rival is another Mexican gang called Nuestra Familia, based in northern California. Although vendettas between the two are common, there is little or no evidence that either Latino gang holds grievances against other racial groups.

Of particular concern to prison officials was the creation of the Aryan Brotherhood in Folsom State Prison in the late 1960s, because anti-black violence was part of the gang's ideology from the start - including a reputed stipulation that killing a black man was the passport to entry into the gang.

Since then, California's increasingly overcrowded maximum security facilities have been racked by spasms of violence, including a fight that broke out 18 months ago in a private facility where black, Latino and white inmates hacked at each other with knives and meat cleavers stolen from the kitchen.

Last year, riots broke out in several prisons, including one jail where a Latino guard was stabbed to death by gang-affiliated inmates.

News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
food + drinkTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
people
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition