A federal judge in Sacramento has awarded class-action status to a lawsuit filed by California prison inmates alleging their rights are violated by widespread practices of race-based punishment, reports the Los Angeles Times. Prison officials acknowledge they respond to outbreaks of violence by ordering lockdowns and other sanctions, and that every inmate is assigned a race or ethnic code: black, Hispanic, white or other. They deny that punishments are decided by race. However, they commonly contend that inmates align themselves with gangs based on race and ethnic group.
U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley’s ruling yesterday found it is “undisputed” that California uses statewide policies governing lockdowns that utilize race. He wrote that “any assertion denying the existence of the [California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s] policy to be insincere at the very least.” The case stems from a 2008 court complaint by inmate Robert Mitchell, who protested that he was repeatedly subjected to lockdown and denied access to exercise or programs because of his race. Mitchell alleged, according to the lawsuit, that prison officials said it was state policy that “when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up.” The class action consists of about 125,000 male inmates in the California prison system.