TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A federal judge on Monday signed off on an agreement between Arizona and an inmate to end a claim of racial segregation in the state's 10 prisons.
U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson in Tucson issued the order on what she previously called a sweeping proposal between attorneys for an inmate and for the state.
The agreement came after a year of negotiations involving the civil rights lawsuit filed in 2013 by inmate Stephen Rudisill alleging the state Department of Corrections violates the Constitution by using race-based housing and work assignments.
Rudisill, an African-American, says he was housed with another African-American who pressured him into joining a gang.
Arizona is believed to be one of the only states that uses race as a factor in housing assignments.
The state will now launch a program involving integrated housing and work duties then track its progress. The rollout would begin this year and should be finished by 2021. There will be exceptions for inmates who have a history of racially motivated incidents.
The state has denied that its policies call for racial segregation, saying that dormitories, or about 85 percent of prison beds, are already racially integrated. The Department of Corrections says that rolling out sudden racial integration of two-man cells could be potentially deadly.
"The Department will work with diligence and good faith in a measured, methodical, and prudently cautious manner over the next 5½ years as set forth in the Court's Order. Our primary concern will remain the safety of uniformed and non-uniformed staff, the public, and the inmates, and the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the state prison system," Department of Corrections spokesman Andrew Wilder said.
Jorgenson had questioned whether the large-scale changes to the way state prisons house inmates and assign them work are necessary after just one inmate filed a lawsuit. She said the changes would require a lot of resources.
Assistant Attorney General Paul Carter said making changes will avoid future lawsuits by other inmates.
Prison officials have argued that racially based housing assignments help keep peace among inmates, especially among those who are in race-based gangs.
But attorneys of Rudisill said that was an invalid argument.
"The prisons' discriminatory practices included assigning all inmates to cells or bunk beds with inmates of the same race or ethnicity, and assigning inmates to employment based on a racial quota system," attorney Bert Deixler said in a statement on Monday.
There are about 35,000 inmates in 10 Arizona prisons. Rudisill, who is serving time for aggravated assault, was housed in the Tucson prison when he filed the complaint.