Court to Review Prison Segregation Policy
By ANNE GEARAN
The Associated Press
Monday, March 1, 2004; 11:02 AM
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court agreed Monday to review a decades-old practice in California prisons of segregating newly arrived prisoners by race.
California routinely assigns black prisoners to bunk only with other black prisoners for three months or more, a practice prison officials say helps keep prisoners safe from racial violence. A black prison inmate challenged the practice as a violation of his constitutional right to equal treatment, and argued it flouted previous Supreme Court rulings striking down segregation in other areas.
"Intentional state racial segregation has been outlawed in this country for over half a century," lawyers for Garrison S. Johnson argued in asking the Supreme Court to hear his appeal.
The practice dates back more than 25 years, Johnson said.
California Attorney General Bill Lockyer countered that the segregation is temporary, and applies only to the two-person cells in which inmates are housed when they first enter the prison system or when they are transferred from one prison to another.
The rest of the prison system is not segregated, and inmates are often allowed to eventually choose their cellmates without regard to race, the state said.
"The confined nature of the cells makes them potentially more dangerous than the other areas of the prison, Lockyer wrote in a court filing.
Racial violence is high outside prison cells, Lockyer said.
"Administrators are concerned they would not be able to protect inmates who are confined in their cells, if they did not consider race as a factor."
The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Johnson last year.
The high court will hear the case next fall, with a ruling expected by July 2005.
The case is Johnson v. Gomez, 03-636.
© 2004 The Associated Press