Prison Law Blog

Sara Mayeux

Prison Law Office Demands an End to Race-based Lockdowns in California Prisons

with 4 comments

California State Prison, Solano, August 2006. Courtesy CDCR

According to official prison reports, the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation (CDCR) frequently subjects entire racial groups to lockdowns, restricting the access of all prisoners of that racial group to medical care, religious services, family visits, and other resources for an average of more than three months at a time. Yesterday the Prison Law Office, a leading prisoners’ rights non-profit law firm based in Berkeley, Calif., issued a demand letter requesting that CDCR cease this practice. From the Prison Law Office letter to Secretary Matthew Cate (full PDF available here):

African-American prisoners from CSP-Solano wrote to us complaining that the institution continues its practice of locking prisoners down based only on racial classification, despite a decision by a California Superior Court that this practice was unlawful. … Several Northern Hispanic prisoners in one facility at CSP-Sacramento have written to us stating that they have been on “modified program” more or less continuously for the last ten years, and as a result receive fewer privileges, job opportunities and yard time than prisoners of other races. More than twenty African-Americans prisoners housed at Kern Valley State Prison informed us that all African-American prisoners in certain facilities have been locked down frequently as a consequence of fights between individual African-American prisoners, and that even African-American prisoners who are “unaffiliated” must endure extended denials of their rights or privileges with respect to movement, feeding, ducats, visiting, work, shower, medical, library, dayroom, recreation, canteen, packages, phone calls, family visits and religious services. Over a dozen White prisoners in one facility at SATF wrote to us complaining of multiple lengthy lockdowns; some informed us that they had been locked down for over a year. These deprivations of rights are imposed purely on the basis of race and even apply to prisoners who arrived at the prison after the date of the incident which provoked the lockdown.

The Prison Law Office argues that extended racially based lockdowns violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. While prisons are legally permitted to take race into account for safety reasons, any racially discriminatory disciplinary practices must be narrowly tailored to a compelling state interest, under Johnson v. California (2005). The letter concludes: “Even if the prisons were permitted to enforce race-based lockdowns for brief periods of time ‘as a necessary and temporary response to a race riot or other serious threat of race-related violence,’ … such race-based policies cannot remain in effect for weeks and even months as CDCR’s lockdowns too often do.”

* Note: The Prison Law Blog has no affiliation with the Prison Law Office, just boundless admiration for their work.

Written by sara

July 15, 2010 at 7:10 am

4 Responses

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  1. Now lets see what Cate’s reaction/response will be. California prisons have been ordered to racially integrate due to lawsuit….great post…I have linked to you….


    July 15, 2010 at 8:15 am

  2. it’s not only the african american inmates that this happens to. if the african americans are involved in an incident, they are put on lockdown status, just as the hispanics and the whites. depending on how often an incident occurs with whatever race an inmate may be. my husband is at c.s.p. solano and he is white and just got off of lockdown due to an incident with the whites that he was not even involved in. i agree that the prisons should not take it out on all the inmates of that certain race for that certain incident. this is totally wrong of them. put the certain inmates involved on lockdown, not all of that race. just as it is totally wrong that lifers are the only inmates who are not eligible for family visits. why is this? understandable if the said inmate is getting into trouble etc and not doing their programs.

    marianne anderson

    July 15, 2010 at 11:53 am

  3. yes, this is an awful practice. as a mental health professionals in the prisons we endure lots of down time because of these race based lockdowns. somedays the race that has the fewest inmates with appointments has to wait the longest. this is averaged over medical, dental, nursing and mental health. if my line happens to have more of that race then i might have to wait hours to see my guys, if i can see them at all in the clinics. then often we are told at the end of the day: sorry no escorts. our only recourse if we want to see them is to go to buildings where the conditions to see people confidentially are, to put it mildly, horrible. and we often have to spend considerable time walking in the heat in the summer: all a waste of our time when we could be doing some good (hopefully) with others who need our help. it is a nightmare all around and many of us feel that some custody officers like it that way, not all mind you, but all too many who are just as happy that they can do less, not walk in the heat and the inmates don’t get what the co’s really don’t want them to have anyway: help, mental health care. and sometimes when we get to the buildings we find plenty of officers sitting around. at least our service is portable: if they need dental or medical care well they are just our of luck for the most part. i am not a bleeding heart for the inmates: but i have to admit what this article says is all too true. sad.


    July 15, 2010 at 12:30 pm

  4. not just African American prisoners it happens a. that African Americans are involved in an incident that put into blocking state, as well as Hispanics and whites. depending on the frequency of an incident with any breed can be a prisoner. My husband is c.s.p. Solano and white and barely got out of lock due to an incident with the white who was not involved, even I agree that prisons should not take place in all the inmates of a certain breed of a certain incident. this is totally wrong of them. inmates who participate in a given block, not all of that race. as it is totally wrong that they are defenders of life of the prisoners are not only eligible to receive family visits. Why? understandable if the prisoner said he was getting into trouble, etc. and make their programs.

    Aclarar la Piel

    June 18, 2011 at 4:00 pm

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