A federal judge in Sacramento on Wednesday awarded class-action status to a lawsuit filed by California prison inmates alleging their rights are violated by widespread practices of race-based punishment.
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.
But they denied in court filings 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 Wednesday found that 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."
There was no immediate comment on the ruling by the department.
The case stems from a 2008 court complaint filed by inmate Robert Mitchell, who protested that he was repeatedly subjected to lockdown at High Desert State Prison 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.”