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Stipulated Order Desegregates Arizona Prisons; $195,000 in Attorney Fees Awarded

by Matt Clarke

Decades after prisons in the Deep South were desegregated by the federal courts, a federal judge has approved a stipulated order desegregating housing and job assignments in Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) facilities. The February 5, 2016 order by U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson also provided for the payment of $195,000 in attorney fees and up to $515,000 in expert fees at the rate of $275 per hour for monitoring and enforcement through 2023. The ADC is required to achieve full compliance with the desegregation order by June 2021.

In September 2013, Arizona state prisoner Stephen L. Rudisill filed a federal civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, arguing racial discrimination in housing and employment assignments in the ADC violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. Rudisill’s filing was pro se and handwritten, but he soon contacted Bert Deixler, the Los Angeles attorney who successfully argued Johnson v. California – the landmark 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that led to the desegregation of California’s prison system. [See: PLN, July 2005, p.22]. Deixler said he receives numerous letters from prisoners.

“I almost always say no,” he stated. “Mr. Rudisill wrote me and his fact pattern seemed disturbingly similar to the one in Johnson, with the added feature of racial quotas for employment and race denoted barber tools.”

In the latter regard, according to the complaint, “Inmates who are employed as barbers must use separate barber tools, which are in separate boxes, numbered 1 through 6. Caucasian barbers must use boxes numbered 2 and 4; Latino barbers must use boxes number 1 and 3; African-American barbers must use the box numbered 5; and Native American barbers must use the box numbered 6.”

Deixler flew to Arizona to inspect the Tucson prison where Rudisill was housed, and quickly “decided [he] was worth representing.”

“Our partners supported our desire to take on this case as a pro bono matter and [fellow attorney] Randall [Jackson] led us through endless negotiating and drafting of the stipulation that was today approved by the district judge in Arizona, with the attendant impact upon 35,000 prisoners,” said Deixler.

The ADC is required to implement an “Integrated Housing Program” with the purpose of fostering racial equality among prisoners. “Any consideration of race in housing assignments shall be permitted only when narrowly tailored to address a compelling state interest,” the order states. Even then, race may only be one factor, and “an inmate’s race shall not be used as a primary determining factor for housing assignments.”

Although the stipulated order allows codes that restrict a prisoner’s housing assignment on the basis of race, they may only be used based upon a racially-motivated incident where racial beliefs were the cause of the incident, or documented racial animus or hostility such that integrated housing would create a risk of violence.

The order also requires that prisoners receive programming such as cultural diversity, socialization skills and decision-making skills before integration. It further instructs the ADC to provide incentives for compliance with desegregation, including allowing prisoners to possess additional property such as MP3 players and electronic games, additional visitation and visits where food is allowed, restoration of previously-denied privileges and release credits, additional recreation, special events such as barbecues, movie nights and sporting events, premium job assignments, and educational and rehabilitation opportunities. In addition to those carrots, the stick for noncompliance with integrated housing is a disciplinary charge.

With similar rare exceptions, the order requires prisoner job assignments to be race neutral. The implementation of integrated housing and jobs is to proceed in five phases, from the lowest-custody prisons through the highest-custody. The ADC is required to develop and implement staff training and establish internal oversight and recordkeeping for the desegregation process. See: Rudisill v. Ryan, U.S.D.C. (D. Ariz.), Case No. 4:13-cv-01149-CKJ.

“The Department will work with diligence and good faith in a measured, methodical, and prudently cautious manner over the next 5½ years as set forth in the Court’s order,” said ADC spokesman Andrew Wilder. “Our primary concern will remain the safety of uniformed and non-uniformed staff, the public, and the inmates, and the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the state prison system.”

Arizona was one of the only states with an official policy of making prison housing assignments according to race, and had argued that racial segregation was needed to control violence – especially among race-based prison gangs. 


Additional sources: Associated Press,

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Related legal case

Rudisill v. Ryan