Prison Race 

High Court: Rioting’s OK, Segretation Isn’t

Editorial from The Signal: The Newspaper's Opinion 

There is the real world and there is the Ivory Tower.
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that segregation within the California prison system will not be tolerated.
    In a 5-3 decision Wednesday, the nation’s highest legal body overturned a lower court ruling that said the prisons themselves should be granted wide leeway in mandating racial separation for safety reasons.
    Citing the historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor spoke for the majority in declaring that prisons are no different than any other government-run institution.
    How does this affect us locally?
    There used to be a minimum security prison called Wayside Honor Rancho. It was a country-club facility where venial offenses were repented with good, old-fashioned farm labor. The actor, Robert Mitchum, once vacationed there in the late 1940s, for a marijuana bust.
    Over the years, the number of hardened criminals grew. Wayside got a name change — Pitchess Detention Center and North County Correctional Facility — and became a full-fledged penitentiary housing murderers, rapists and your basic predatory thugs.
    California’s various nefarious street and outlaw gangs are well represented there and, as a guard once aptly described it: “It’s a gladiator school.”
    In recent years, the description has been more than apt. Race riots were a regularity. Among the thousands of convicts housed there at any one time, hundreds tried to stab, maim, blind, bite, mutilate, or just plain beat someone to death.
    This is after the fact, but we’d like to ask the Supreme Court to notice the word, “race,” in the phrase, “race riot.”
    Across California, prisons started a policy where they would automatically segregate prisoners for 60 days.
    Was it some grand plot on the state’s penal system to send the civil rights movement back a century?
    It was to stop some of the Golden State’s dumber, more aggressive individuals from tearing one another limb from limb.
    “In the prison context, when the government’s power is at its apex, we think that searching judicial review of racial classifications is necessary to guard against invidious discrimination,” O’Connor wrote.
    In his dissenting voice, Justice Clarence Thomas recognized something rare these days: common sense. Thomas noted that places like Pitchess are “breeding grounds” for deviants and the most violent of our free society, and that in America, it’s more important to guarantee the safety and life of even the lowliest and most despicable of our citizens first, and then steward their civil rights.
    On the almost lunatic fringe of the spectrum was another dissenting opinion, this one from Judge John Paul Stevens. He wanted to completely abolish all segregation from the California penal system.
    Well, Justice Stevens. That’s one way to cut down on the growing cost of incarceration: Grant them their civil rights and let them kill one another.
    In a Petrie dish, imaginary world, Heaven, altruistic distant planet, coffee shop chat session, ivory tower or Supreme Court, this is all just a perfectly spunky topic of conversation.
    While the ruling so far addresses California state’s prisons, there is the strong possibility the weight of the Supreme Court will trickle down to Castaic, a county facility.
    In the real world — and, for the sake and safety of our own staff at Pitchess — we pray the court’s decision isn’t going to create a very large bucket of blood.

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