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Supreme Court Limits Segregation in State Prisons

February 24, 2005  | 

The Supreme Court has ruled that state prisons cannot segregate inmates even temporarily except in very rare cases.

The ruling stands to end a California practice that allows prisons great leeway in separating prisoners based on race for safety reasons.

“In the prison context, when the government’s power is at its apex, we think that searching judicial review of racial classifications is necessary to guard against invidious discrimination,” wrote Justice Sandra Day O’Connor for the majority.

But Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his dissent that courts have allowed prison officials the ability to control their facilities to avoid violence for a reason.

“The majority is concerned with sparing inmates the indignity and stigma of racial discrimination. California’s concerned with their safety and saving their lives,” Thomas wrote.

Under the ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals must determine that California’s 25-year-old policy of segregating based on race works and is necessary for the practice to continue.

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