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California Prisons Ending Race-Based Punishment

Following a settlement, California prisons will no longer implement lockdowns based on the race of inmates.
Posted at 2:11 PM, Oct 23, 2014

Following a legal settlement, California prisons will no longer separate inmates based on race. 

Previously, prisoners in the California prison system were isolated by race during lockdowns, a practice officials claimed allowed them to conduct investigations after violent episodes. Prison gangs, they said, are often race-based. (Video via PBS)

But in a civil rights lawsuit brought against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2008, inmates claimed race was being used as a stand-in for gang involvement. (Video via Al Jazeera)

The lawsuit stems from a 2006 incident at California's High Desert State Prison, where a group of black inmates attacked two prison guards. As a result, the prison went into an extended lockdown.

BILL GRIFFITH, KGTV: "For the next 14 months after that, all African-American prisoners there were forced to stay in one wing without the outdoor time or prison jobs."

In the settlement, the state agreed to determine which prisoners would be locked down on an individual basis. 

The lawsuit was initially filed by a single inmate who was locked down after the incident. Soon other inmates joined the suit. 

Then last year the Department of Justice intervened in the case on behalf of the inmates, saying: "The race based lockdown policy cannot survive strict scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment."

And earlier this summer, the case was granted class-action status.

The settlement is just one in a series of recent high-profile court cases involving the California prison system. 

Earlier this year a federal judge ruled the state's death penalty unconstitutional. That case has made its way to the Supreme Court. 

And in 2011 the Supreme Court ordered the state to release more than 30,000 prisoners from its overcrowded system.

Lawyers representing the inmates as well as California Corrections Department officials both praised the settlement, which now goes to a federal judge for final approval.

This video includes images from Getty Images.