Rich Pedroncelli / AP

California prisons to end race-based lockdowns

Prisons can impose lockdowns based on inmate location or through an 'individualized threat assessment' — but not race

Prison chiefs in California has agreed to stop race-based lockdowns as a means of controlling violence, settling a long-running civil rights lawsuit, according to court records.

From now on, guards will only be allowed to impose lockdowns based on an inmate's location in the jail or through an "individualized threat assessment." Race or ethnicity cannot factor into the decision, according to the agreement first published by the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.

It follows a lawsuit filed in 2008 by High Desert State Prison inmate Robert Mitchell, who, according to court records, said that "when there is an incident involving any race, all inmates of that race are locked up."

Lawyers for the inmates said the policy violated prisoners' constitutional rights, while prison officials argued that they needed to immobilize large segments of the prison population while conducting investigations into violent incidents, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The agreement will also permit inmates placed on lockdown to exercise outdoors after two weeks. Lockdowns typically result in the loss of privileges such as phone calls, showers, mail and visits.

The newspaper reported that lawyers cited up to 160 race-based lockdowns lasting at least six weeks in a given year.

The U.S. Justice Department intervened in the case a year ago and sided with the inmates, stating that California's racial lockdowns were based on "generalized fears of racial violence," according to court filings.

The settlement will require final approval by a federal judge, the settlement said.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did not admit to any violation of federal law in the settlement.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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