In the past several years, there have been numerous court rulings that have declared segregation in prison housing unconstitutional. The United States as a whole has abandoned old policies of segregation for 50 years – everywhere but the prison system.
For prison officials, who have to deal with violence and other security concerns, integrating prisoners is the least of their concerns. The separation of prisoners by race has historically been one of the most strictly enforced codes. Any attempt to integrate prisoners of different races has posed an immediate danger to prisoners and officials.
Recently, some prisons have experimented with pilot programs where a computer system fills all vacant prison beds with a random prisoner without ever considering age, race or religion. And any prisoners who refuse to live with different races would lose some of their privileges, and in some cases get solitary confinement. As with any change, there was a period of tension and uncertainty.
California has the largest prison population in America. It is known for giving birth to the most violent ethnic gangs and militant organizations in American history. To witness the ethnic interaction of today, with the understanding of how it used to be, is remarkable. You now have white “ex-skinheads” living with black “ex-revolutionary militants.” There are Mexicans, blacks and white prisoners on the yard performing prayer circles as a result of racial unity formed through integration policies.
Two other important changes have resulted from racial integration in prisons. One, the reduction of racial violence and tension. It is much harder to foster fear between races. In the past, one of the best ways to keep a particular race unified in prison was to reinforce the threats from other races. It’s the “us versus them” mentality. As time passed and the process of integration settled into the mindset of the masses, life became much more bearable, without having to carry around the hatred and tension of racism. I believe that most will agree that unity and equality is a much more natural state of existence for human beings.
Prison integration equips paroling prisoners with a greater chance of functioning in a diverse and multicultural society upon release. The act of a prisoner getting over racial barriers in prison gives them the confidence to overcome other challenges in the free world, like finding a job, seeking help for substance abuse or taking the initiative to strengthen family ties.
In our society, prisoners make up some of the least educated, mentally challenged, and evil people on Earth. If these people can break the cycle of racial prejudice and hate, then there is a strong argument that anyone’s heart can be changed.
Sherman Davis #D-40367
P.O. Box 8800
Corcoran, CA 93212-8309