California prisons to end racial lockdown policy

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 23, 2014 2:49 AM

(Reuters) - The California prison system has agreed to settle a long-running civil rights lawsuit by ending race-based lockdowns of inmates, court records show.

The 21-page stipulated settlement, which has not been filed in court but was published online by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday, provides for lockdowns in the prison system of the country's most populous state to now cover all inmates in a certain area or specific inmates deemed to pose a threat.

For lockdowns exceeding 14 days, the settlement also requires wardens to make plans for inmates to participate in outdoor activities.

"The prisons will still be able to maintain security, while prisoners will no longer be targeted for lengthy lockdowns just because of their race or ethnicity," said Rebekah Evenson, an attorney for the prisoners.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Jeffrey Callison said in an email the department was pleased with the settlement and it started making the policy changes in May. The department did not concede to any violation of federal law in the settlement.

The case was filed in 2008 by High Desert State Prison inmate Robert Mitchell, who said it was the department's policy that "when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up," court records show.

Mitchell said the policy violated prisoners' constitutional rights, while prison system officials argued that it helped ensure safety after racially-fueled outbursts.

The case was certified as a class action in July to cover the state's roughly 125,000 male inmates, court records show.

The proposed settlement will be sent to the class and discussed at a fairness hearing, and will require final approval by a federal judge, according to the document.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)