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California Stops Race-based Punishment



In 2006,  two guards were attacked by inmates at California’s High Desert State Prison. The warden ordered a full lockdown which restricted all African Americans in one wing of the prison to their cells for 14 months. For 14 months, there was no outdoor exercise, no education and/or rehabilitation programs, and no prison jobs.

California has consented this week to stop race-based punishment. Prison officials in California used race as the criteria for their lockdown decisions to control prison violence. It was evident that the race-based punishment was designed to control the prison’s gangs, since most prison gangs are based on race. By using this tactic, if an inmate was not a gang member or even if the inmate’s gang was not involved, all members of the same race suffered the same harsh retribution. There were as many as 160 race-based lockdowns lasting six weeks or longer in any given year in California.

The U.S. Justice Department had joined sides with the lawyers of the inmates. The federal lawyers had argued that California’s racial lockdowns had violated federal practices. The High Desert State Prison case was eventually widened to cover all prisoners and lockdown practices in California’s state prisons. U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley stated it was “undisputed” that California had statewide lockdown policies based on race.

California has now agreed to a system that will decide prisoner by prisoner who is to be lockdown. Inmates placed on lockdown will be allowed to exercise outdoors after two weeks. A lockdown can include the loss of privileges including mail, phone calls, showers, and visits. The agreement now goes to a federal judge for anticipated approval.

By:Bradley D. Schwartz
Founder of

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