On the LA Times op-ed page, Jody Kent of the ACLU denigrates LA County sheriff Lee Baca’s call, in the wake of last week’s jail race riots, to be allowed to use racial segregation to prevent racial violence:
Despite what you may be hearing, race is not the issue. Sure, racial tensions carry over from the streets and into the jails. If a major fight breaks out, street gang and all other affiliations are pushed aside and inmates join with others of the same race. If they don’t, they can expect to be targeted and attacked by members of the group they abandoned.
But segregating inmates by race doesn’t solve the problem. It does nothing to identify the problem inmates who create the violence and mastermind riots in the jails. Those high-risk inmates feed off the racial tension and magnify it…
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-3 decision that former inmate Garrison Johnson was right. Johnson, who is African American, had filed suit after being repeatedly segregated in California’s detention facilities. The high court’s decision recognized that housing inmates by race is a Band-Aid solution. In fact, the court said, racial segregation can make enemies out of people who might otherwise get along.
The proof that violence can be avoided without segregating inmates by race is in two small programs run within the 21,000-inmate L.A. County system. Inmates housed at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood are enrolled in focused programs designed to give war veterans, drug offenders and domestic abuse offenders skills they can use when released, and the privilege of those classes provides a reason not to fight. Inmates are not divided along racial lines, but the most violent have been weeded out and are held elsewhere. The result: Racial violence is not a problem among these inmates.
So, the solution for racial violence in jail is to keep the “most violent” out of jail! Why didn’t anybody think of that before? Thank God for those razor sharp minds at the ACLU.