Why don't we racialy segregate our prison system?

Before anyone starts, let me categorically emphasize that, I’m personally against racial segregation of any kind.

That said, if one believes the ‘real life’ prison shows, it seems that the prisoners already segregate themselves: whites, blacks, northern Mexicans, southern Mexicans, asians etc. I can’t figure it out; perhaps someone with better knowledge can illuminate things.

These groups compete, as they do on the outside, for turf, power, a cut of the ‘game’ etc. Often, there will be violence associated with these squabbles; it seems the worst thing that can happen for the prison staff is a race riot.

So why not segregate the system and allow prisoners to choose where they live? Keep them all apart and then they will only be able to prey on their own “kind”. I’m sure that there would be some way to keep the cell blocks or prisons “Separate, but Equal”

Again, I’m not advocating this, but it seems that almost anything would be better than a system that virtually forces inmates into racially motivated gangs with ‘shot callers’ who give ‘orders’ to force inmates into committing crimes while they are already incarcerated.

Fellow Dopers; any ideas?

I actually think that it would lead to a safer environment for prisoners. Yeah, it flies in the face of “all men created equal” and all, but prison isn’t normal society, and like you stated, these guys will already affiliate themselves with the likes of whatever gang they think gives them protection and power, mostly along racial lines anyway.

The difference is if there’s a security-driven segregation in prisons, there would be far less opportunities for these rival gangs to shank each other.

They could make it like school lunches: “Aryan Nation and all non-Jew whites have lunch A, Crips and Bloods Lunch B, Latino Kings Lunch C” etc.

It probably would be impossible to implement though, and there would likely be many prisoners that would complain to whomever would listen about being racially segregated in the good old USA.

Putting aside the legality of it, the most practical reason why is that it wouldn’t change anything. Amongst African-American inmates, for instance, there are multiple gang affiliations, carried over from the outside. Those would still be perfectly intact, and there would still be conflict and bloodshed between them. The same is true for Latino gangs, white biker gangs, etc.

Speaking as somebody with experience, it wouldn’t make any real difference. Many prisoners form into gangs. In a multi-racial prison, it’s often along racial lines. But in a one-race prison, they’d figure out another reason. If you had a prison where everyone was black, you’d still have violence between the Bloods and the Crips and the Disciples and the Guerillas. Same with whites or Hispanics or Asians or any other group you could name. Put enough prisoners together and some of them are going to decide to gang up and pick on the others.

You’re probably correct, but wouldn’t it reduce race on race attacks? I am of the understanding that many of the assaults that occur in prisons are racially-motivated, not as much from rival gangs within the same race.


In Johnson v. California, SCOTUS held that any racial discrimination, even in the prison context, was subject to strict scrutiny. To meet strict scrutiny, the ends must be compelling, and the means must be narrowly tailored.

The policy of the California Department of Corrections was to segregate new prisoners for up to 60 days. SCOTUS remanded the case so that the lower court could apply strict scrutiny to this policy. I don’t know what the result was after it was remanded, but the decision highlights why a racial segregation policy is difficult to formulate. Assuming that the government has a compelling reason to racially segregate prisoners (I happen to think there are compelling reasons), any policy must be narrowly tailored to achieve this. I suspect that a policy of permanent segregation would be unconstitutional.

It’s funny someone mentioned gangs.

In Canada, most violence perpetrated by habitual criminals is in-group violence, the vast majority against other habitual criminals of the same ethnic background. Bikers, all white, kill other bikers; just recently eight guys were executed in a farmer’s field not far from here. All white guys. They don’t shoot Vietnamese triad thugs; they shoot each other. Jamaican street gangbangers, all black, kill other Jamaican street gangbangers. Chinese gangs shoot guys in other Chinese gangs.

Why would that stop in prison if you segregated them?

Not to throw gas on the fire, but people tend to segregate themselves in society. White neighborhoods, black neighborhoods, black churches, white churches.

Why not just say to hell with it and have legal segregation? I mean, you argument makes logical sense, but we decided 40 years ago that we couldn’t/wouldn’t continue this type of distinction anymore as far as the law was concerned.

Because in prison, all the members of “Biker Gang X” wouldn’t get sent there at the same time. It would be one member, and he would have to find his own allies on the inside, and if all the white guys are hanging out together on one side of the yard, he is going to associate with them.

Racial segregation would be pretty problematic even aside from the legal problems. How would you carry it out? Would prisoners be able to self-identify? Would you judge someone’s race by their skin color? Last name? How would you ensure that white prisoners aren’t treated better than everyone else? And don’t you risk further entrenching the gangs along racial lines instead of, you know, trying to solve the problem?

Wouldn’t it be better to just spend enough money on prisons to prevent gang violence from occurring? If we take all the non-violent drug offenders out, we could put the money saved into programs to prevent gang violence.

  1. Multiple gang members do, in fact, get put in prison at the same time - especially biker gangs, who tend to be quite organized, and thus subject to mass busts.

  2. Even when they are nabbed one at a time, it’s rather unlikely that any given gang member would be the only member of a given gang in the prison (in the case of large organizations like the Hell’s Angels or the Bloods, even in the off chance that they’re the only member of their own affiliated group, there’s almost zero chance they’re the only member of the organization).

  3. You’ve just explained how racially divided gangs ends up forming in racially unsegregated prisons. That wasn’t the question asked. The question asked was
    what’s to keep prisoners in a racially segregated prison from turning to violence against each other, like on the outside?

The answer is ‘nothing’. The problem isn’t mixing the races, the problem is concentrating a bunch of violent offenders together - race is just the most obvious way they have of dividing up - take that out, and they’ll find another. It could be all bikers forming up one gang, all non-bikers circling in response. It could be ‘hey, my gang and your gang both hate his gang’. It could come down to prison politics - ‘you’re loyal to Prisoner 11011, I’m loyal to Prisoner 10111, and that’s reason enough for me to hate you’.

What basis do you have to say that? Your argument falls apart right here.

RickJay wondered whether prison segregation would stop intraracial violence from occurring. I don’t know of any statistics that can answer that. But many gangs are formed along racial lines, prison gangs especially. Segregation would certainly limit violence between prison gangs of different races.

Of course, it would cut it to zero. That is, however, meaningless.

You’ve provided no evidence that that would cut down noticeably on prison violence, when the perpetrators are perfectly happy to commit intraracial violence on the outside. Or even that any of the violence between racially divided gangs is racially motivated, which is the only way it could possibly cause the amount of violence to cut down.

Maybe I’m missing your ironic intent, but there’s a massive difference between people voluntarily deciding who they want to associate with and having the government or some other outside authority tell them who they can associate with.

There might be racial motivations within prison, but that’s incidental. The point is there is violence between gangs, and gang membership (inside prison and out) is commonly divided along racial lines.

RickJay cited intraracial gang violence outside of prison in Canada. OF COURSE Vietnamese gangs are going to target other Vietnamese gangs, they all live and operate near each other. Gangs develop where the people live. A Vietnamese gang isn’t going to move into the Jamaican part of town and set up shop. But in prison, you’re forced into the same environment as people of other races, whether you want it or not. A prison in the Los Angeles area may see several different Hispanic gangs in the same prison because there are a lot of Hispanics in that area. But a supermax prison in Ohio (for example), one that draws prisoners from all over the state, may not necessarily have multiple members of a particular outside gang. The prison gang may predominate over any “Crip” affiliation, and the membership of those gangs will likely be determined by race.

From what I’ve seen on those prison shows, the staff usually seems to condone it. Why not assign cellmates of different races and do seating at lunch black, white, hispanic, asian, etc, like how in elementary school they do boy, girl, boy, girl? It would cause a shitstorm at first but I think it would lead to less violence in the long run. They could racially mix every aspect of prison life up until these people realized they are going to have to talk to/work with/eat with/sleep with/live with people of other races. They should get used to it because free society is not segregated. They could implement it covertly enough that no one might notice at first, which would ease some of the initial backlash.

Again, I realize this would be a bloody, deadly mess at first, but I think it would stop a lot of violence and save a lot of lives in the long run - you gotta think, we’re going to have prisons forever, and this problem is not solving itself.

Not all of us live in a racially segregated America.

And no doubt you also believe that ALF, Mork & Mindy, and Third Rock From The Sun are all documentaries that prove that extraterrestrials live among us.

When has anything shown on a TV show had any connection to reality?

We do that already and have been doing it for years. We don’t intentionally assign cells, jobs, or seating by race. We simply ignore race. When a prisoner gets his meal in the mess hall, for example, he doesn’t get to pick who he gets to sit next to - he sits in the next empty seat, regardless of who’s sitting next to him. So blacks, whites, and hispanics all end up sitting together.

In prison, we don’t judge people by the color of their skin. We judge them by the color of their shirt. We’re all blue and they’re all green.

Uhhh, when they’re documentaries. Try understanding the words you read before acting like such a jerk next time.