RIVERSIDE, Calif.—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.
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.
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.”