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Prison System Increases Cell Integration to Avoid Fines

Faced with the threat of millions of dollars in fines, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice began increasing the number of racially integrated, two-person cells July 1.

Before July only about 2 percent of the system's 11,000 double cells were integrated; assignments were made on the basis of inmate preference.

The action came 14 years after the state signed a consent decree to end racial bias in prison housing and work assignments and five months after the U. S. Justice Department said it would seek contempt fines of $20,000 a day if the state did not develop a suitable plan. The decree requires that the prison system integrate 20 percent of the double cells.

The Justice Department in February threatened to seek sanctions against prison officials for failing to integrate the cells as called for in the consent decree. At the time, federal lawyers said they were prepared to seek fines of $50,000 a day for each cell that was not integrated.

The integration will affect only general population inmates. Many inmates already are assigned to racially integrated, dormitory-style prisons.

Members of racial supremacist groups will not be housed with members of another race. Nor will those who have been the victims of racial attacks in prison, of those with close relatives who have been victims of racially motivated crimes, officials said.

State officials acknowledged that some inmates may balk at living with someone of a different ethnic background. Leonard Peck, assistant general counsel for the TDCJ, told the Associated Press that inmates will be told: "We don't care how you feel about it; we're going to do it. So go write to your mothers about how miserable you are. But it is going to happen."

Peck said prison officials are committed to making the integration plan work.

"Inmates who try to sabotage this are going to have to pay," he said. "We have lots of ways of dealing with (insubordination) - loss of good time, loss of classification status and miserable work assignments."

From: Corrections Today

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