Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Unconstitutionality of Lockdown of California Hispanics Upheld On Appeal

The California Court of Appeal upheld the Del Norte County Superior Courts 2003 ruling [case no. HCPB 00-5164] requiring supermax Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) officials to cease locking down Southern Hispanic prisoners endlessly solely based upon their ethnicity. In an unpublished ruling in 2004, the appellate court rejected PBSP officials arguments that the superior court had used the wrong constitutional analysis. The court independently reviewed the record using the reasonableness standard of Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987).

The superior court had found that PBSPs policy of automatically locking down all Southern Hispanics, whether they had participated in the major 2000 riot or not, or even if they were not at PBSP when it occurred, amounted to unconstitutional invidious discrimination. Indeed, the court found that by so isolating and discriminating against Southern Hispanics, PBSP was literally fomenting a culture of separation. Worse yet, the court found that while prisoners could get into the gang affiliation label, they could not get out of it. The court found PBSPs administrative review process offering deprogramming to be woefully slow, and ordered them to increase their resources to get the task done on a specified timetable. See: PLN, Mar. 2003, p.6, California Three-Year Lockdown of Southern Hispanics Held Unconstitutional.

The principal contention on appeal was that the lower court had only looked into whether the lockdown policy was necessary rather than determining if it served a legitimate penological interest. PBSP had focused on the courts language, A lockdown of all inmates, without regard to ethnicity, would be permissible, even over an extended period of time, if it were necessary to maintain order and institutional safety. The appellate court distinguished this as validation only of a hypothetical non-discriminatory lockdown of all prisoners, not a legal standard justifying a racially discriminatory lockdown. Thus, PBSPs argument fell far short of demonstrating the application of an erroneous legal standard.

The appellate court then proceeded to conduct an independent four-part Turner analysis. It first found that the facts demonstrated a rational basis for PBSPs actions, clearing the way for continued analysis as announced in Prison Legal News v. Cook, 238 F.3d 1145, 1151 (9th Cir. 2001). As to the second Turner factor, reasonable alternatives, PBSP argued that the affected class still had some rights because they were getting medical care and [non-contact] visitation. This didnt wash with the appellate court, who viewed the lockdown disadvantages of no exercise, no work, and no program activities as disparaging.

Recognizing its own mistaken policy in the interim, PBSP revised its policy in 2001 to discern only two cognizable groups: those who wanted to program and those who did not, irrespective of ethnicity. In so doing, the appellate court ruled that PBSP had in essence conceded the final two Turner factors, and affirmed the lower courts order requiring PBSP to quickly terminate the by then four-year lockdown (PBSP had obtained a stay pending appeal) by implementing a firm schedule to end the standoff. See: Escalara v. Terhune, California Court of Appeal (1st District), 2004; 2004 WL 238783. Note the case is unpublished.

To date, deprogramming seems to be gaining acceptance. Some 13,000 California prisoners have been placed in protective custody prisons (necessary after dropping out of a gang), with a waiting list of thousands more pending. See: PLN, April, 2006 for more details.)

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Escalara v. Terhune