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
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.