The case against integration

Segregating people in the ‘free world’ is wrong, but not in prison

By Andres Romero 08/03/2006

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In the free world, people still have a choice to either stay within their own race or open their hearts and minds and embrace different people.

Behind prison walls, however, you have no choices. You stay within your own race and keep away from other ethnic groups. No ifs, ands or buts. Break the rules of segregation here and you could end up injured or dead.

But today, a recent US Supreme Court ruling barring separation of prisoners based on race could change this system and, as a result, put a lot of people in danger of being injured or killed.

Segregation has always been a way of life in the California penal system. Even if you are not a racist, in prison you will be forced to become one as a matter of survival. In here, racism is an institutionalized part of everyday life. No law will ever change that aspect of this widely condoned element of the state prison system, a system that actually expects inmates to commit hate crimes behind bars.

But now, with this ruling, life behind bars could get even worse than it already is.

One of the factors given for this ruling by the high court (and they must be high) was the belief that integration of prisoners would reduce the risk of racial violence. They apparently have no clue what grave danger this ruling could pose to thousands of men in the California prison system.

To fulfill the court’s demands, prison officials will have to determine an inmate’s compatibility with another prisoner of another race and then match them up according to their ages and physical characteristics. That’s so there is no physical disadvantage in case something goes down in the cell, which it surely will.

Prison officials may pacify public officials and the like into believing it can be done, but prisoners have been explicit in saying that they don’t want to be housed with prisoners of other races, and prison officials know and respect this.

There might be exceptions because some ethnic groups are allied with each other. For example, Latinos have open relationships with whites, while blacks interact with Asians. But Latinos have no fellowship with either blacks or Asians, at least openly, for fear of retaliation.

You see, what prison officials understand, and the Supreme Court fails to think about, is that this is not the free world. This is prison. Segregation in here helps maintain a sense of stability and civility. In here, rules have been set — and not by prison officials — as to whom you will run with and “cell up” with.

Racial violence is a daily occurrence throughout the system. Many laws “out there” do not apply here. Many prisoners will or could be put in dangerous positions if the Supreme Court’s ruling is implemented.

This is an especially difficult reality to grasp for someone like me. I was born in Mexico and grew up in Northwest Pasadena around a lot of black families. My best friend was black, and I married a white girl. There isn’t an ounce of racism running through my blood.

But in this case, the ACLU, which does wonderful work in protecting people’s civil rights and addressing injustices, is out of bounds. Shame on them for pressing this issue. They must have forgotten that they don’t have to live in here. Either that or they are delusional in believing this ruling will somehow make prison life less violent.

If anything, this ruling will multiply the chances for violence in our already extremely dangerous prisons.


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