Patterico's Pontifications

2/26/2005

L.A. Times Editors Hopelessly Naive on Prisoner Segregation

Filed under: Crime,Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 2:45 pm

The editors at the L.A. Times published an editorial yesterday praising the Supreme Court’s decision applying strict scrutiny to segregation of prisoners by race in California. I haven’t read the Supreme Court’s decision, and I don’t comment on court decisions that I haven’t read. But, looking at the policy alone, I am appalled (though not surprised) by the editors’ naive view of prisoners, and the editors’ failure of logical thinking.

The editorial begins with praise for these enlightened times in which we live:

The Supreme Court made the right decision Wednesday in all but overturning California’s policy of housing new prison inmates in cells based on their race. Clearly, the state cannot classify people solely on that basis in the year 2005, and it would be preposterous for state prison officials to continue arguing that there is a compelling reason to do so.

It may come as a shock to L.A. Times editors, but prison inmates aren’t always as sophisticated and broad-minded as those of us on the outside. Believe it or not, some of them are racists! Yes, even in the year 2005.

Editors would do well to read the fantastic book The Hot House, by Pete Earley. Earley spent most of his waking hours at Leavenworth prison for two years in the late 1980s. Earley, a former Washington Post reporter, says:

While race relations outside federal prisons had improved in many ways over the decades, the fires of racial hatred still burned as intensely as ever in the prisons. In Leavenworth, black and white convicts segregated themselves in the inmate dining hall and prison officials never housed blacks and whites in the same cell.

(p. 53) There is no reason to think that these words are any less true in 2005 than they were in 1991, when the book was first published.

Here’s a passage from the book that made quite an impression on me when I first read it years ago. There’s some rough language here, so if you’re offended by profanity or ugly racial epithets, you might skip the next passage:

“Most whites fuck up right away when they come into prison, because they try to be friendly,” [convicted murderer Norman] Bucklew said later. “Let’s say a white dude is put in a cell with maybe fifteen niggers. If he says hello or even nods to them, then he’s already doomed. You see, half of them will think he is just being polite and treating them with respect, but the other half will know he is weak and afraid, because they know that a white man isn’t even going to acknowledge them if he’s been in prison before, because whites don’t speak to niggers in prison. These niggers are going to move on that guy as soon as the hack disappears.”

(p. 419) This inmate’s language is ugly — but it is reflective of the attitudes of many prison inmates, who tend not to share the racially sensitive values of those of us who have never spent time in prison. White supremacist prison gang members tend not to refer to “the African-American gentlemen in the next cell.”

Let’s play “spot the logical fallacy” as we read on in the editorial:

[A]s a routine matter, the state cannot rely on such a primitive means of classifying people, even temporarily, in seeking peaceful prisons. Indeed, the use of that criterion alone may be unfairly endangering as many inmates as it protects. Consider the case of a nonviolent convict stuck in a cell with a dangerous gang member simply because they share the same ethnicity.

I agree that we should try to prevent housing nonviolent convicts with dangerous criminals. But where is the evidence that such situations are caused by temporary racial segregation? The real problem lies with the fact that prison officials do not have access to complete information on the criminal histories of incoming inmates.

Without a policy of temporary racial segregation, we will still have nonviolent convicts stuck in cells with dangerous gang members — but now the dangerous gang member may be of a different ethnicity. Given the racial prejudice of so many prison inmates, this is a prescription for more violence, not less.

I agree with editors that we must work towards the goal of more promptly providing prison officials with relevant background information on incoming inmates. But until we attain that goal, temporary racial segregation seems to me to be a reasonable policy that, far from violating the rights of inmates, may actually help save their lives.

11 Responses to “L.A. Times Editors Hopelessly Naive on Prisoner Segregation”

  1. The Dog Trainer believe in doing things the French way: It’s more important to do thing correctly than to do the right thing. It’s more important to run a politically correctly prison with feely-touchy doctrine than to run it safely. Nevermind that PC Prison guarantees race riots and inmate & guards death. Afterall, it’s the right intention that counts.

    BigFire (b30455)

  2. I used to process prisioners coming out of the Ramsey Unit in Brazoria County, Texas; I made sure they got their ration of food stamps (a necessary thing, as none had money for food). I recall sitting across from some very evil dudes of all colors. Believe me, the racists in prison come in all colors; it just seems logical to me to segregate prisioners based on race, even temporarily. I can imagine the blood that is going to be spilled from this one, just because some idiot thought it was a good PC idea.

    kschlenker (be3b07)

  3. Cogently argued, Patterico. I suppose we ought to have aspirations for what our prisons ought to become. But prisons aren’t colleges or housing projects. Our desire for how things ought to be in an ideal, color-blind world cannot blind us to how things actually are in this very volatile reality in which we live.

    If there were demonstrable reasons to conclude that people whose last names start with A-M start brutal fights with people whose last names start with N-Z, I hope we wouldn’t let our zeal for an alphabetically-discrimination-free society get in the way of alphabetic segregation either. We’d keep them apart not because N-Z folks are inferior or legitimately subject to discrimination, but because we want to keep them alive.

    Beldar (44e870)

  4. Conspicuous compassion is more important than a lower murder rate, apparently.

    Ladainian (91b3b2)

  5. Prisons are sounding more and more resort-like. Prison is meant to be dangerous, uncomfortable, and as close to hell on Earth as you get. That is the reason it’s a deterrent of crime. If we cater to convicts and segregate for their safety we defeat the purpose of imprisonment. I have known people who spent time in Cook County Jail in Chicago, they said it’s not that bad! The only complaint they had was the lack of females, other than that it was cool. There is something very wrong with that.

    Dr. Slippyfists (35898f)

  6. […] Last year, I mocked Los Angeles Times editors for a hopelessly naive editorial which said: The Supreme Court made the right decision Wednesday in all but overturning California’s policy of housing new prison inmates in cells based on their race. Clearly, the state cannot classify people solely on that basis in the year 2005, and it would be preposterous for state prison officials to continue arguing that there is a compelling reason to do so. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Los Angeles Times Editors Proven Wrong Yet Again (421107)

  7. […] When reading last night’s post about separating races in jail and race riots, please don’t snap back at me until you click the links — especially the one for my previous post criticizing last year’s editorial. If you didn’t read that post already, please do so now. I make the case more completely there than my Treo allows me to do now. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Click the Links (421107)

  8. Clearly, the state cannot classify people solely on [race]

    So, when did the Editors of the LA Times stop being fans of “Affirmative Action” and “Diversity” (which both requrie you to judge people based on the color of their skin)?

    Greg D (dfbcf3)

  9. […] L.A. Times editors, February 2005: The Supreme Court made the right decision Wednesday in all but overturning California’s policy of housing new prison inmates in cells based on their race. Clearly, the state cannot classify people solely on that basis in the year 2005, and it would be preposterous for state prison officials to continue arguing that there is a compelling reason to do so. […]

    Patterico’s Pontifications » Another “Preposterous” Prison Race Riot — In the Year 2007! L.A. Times Editors Would Be Shocked! (421107)


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