ACLU Applauds Supreme Court Decision Protecting Prisoners from Racial Discrimination
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union today hailed a Supreme Court decision rejecting the use of racial segregation as a routine method of prison administration. The Court first held that racially segregated prisons were unconstitutional in a 1968 case brought by the ACLU.
"Today's ruling upholding prisoners' protection from racial discrimination is a triumph for prisoners and the disproportionate number of minority men and women that this country chooses to incarcerate," said Elizabeth Alexander, director of the ACLU's National Prison Project, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case. "Protecting prisoners from racial discrimination is critical to maintaining public confidence in a criminal justice system that is often criticized for its mistreatment of racial minorities."
At issue in the case was California's longstanding policy of racially segregating its prisoners during an initial classification period when they first arrive in the system or are transferred to a new facility. Although no other state has adopted a similar policy, the lower courts in this case held that California's decision to segregate prisoners by race was entitled to deference rather than the strict judicial scrutiny that would normally apply to racial classifications in other settings.
"We rejected the notion that separate can ever be equal. . .50 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education, and we refuse to resurrect it today," said the Court in a 5-3 majority decision authored by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Chief Justice Rehnquist did not participate). "Compliance with the Fourteenth Amendment's ban on racial discrimination is not only consistent with proper prison administration, but also bolsters the legitimacy of the entire criminal justice system."
In its amicus brief filed on behalf of California prisoner Garrison Johnson, the ACLU cited a 1997 Gallup poll finding that 72 percent of black respondents believe blacks are treated more harshly than whites in the criminal justice system. Among white respondents, nearly half believed that blacks are treated more harshly. "There is no area of our national life in which the perception of continuing racial discrimination is more widespread," the ACLU said in its brief.
"Racial segregation is not the solution to the problem of prison violence," added Steven R. Shapiro, the ACLU's Legal Director.
Today's ruling by the Supreme Court was in the case Johnson v. California, 03-636. The Court's decision is online at http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/24
The ACLU's amicus brief in the lawsuit is online at /cpredirect/18252.