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Supreme Court rules on prisoner segregation

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered a stricter review of the state of California's policy that requires race-based segregation of new inmates.

In a 5-3 decision, the court stopped short of declaring the policy unconstitutional but voiced doubts about the state's rationale. The state says racial segregation of up to 60 days reduces prisoner violence. The Bush administration submitted a brief arguing that integration actually improves safety.

The majority sent the case back to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for review under a strict constitutional standard. Justice John Paul Stevens dissented, saying that the court should have declared the policy unconstitutional.

Justice Clarence Thomas disagreed that the policy is wrong. In an opinion joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, he said the U.S. Constitution "has always demanded less within the prison walls."

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist did not participate in the adjudication of the case because he was absent from the court when the arguments took place. He is recovering from thyroid cancer surgery.

Native Americans make up about 1 percent of California's state prison population as of 2000.

Get the Story:
Justices Rule Against Prisoner Segregation (The Washington Post 2/24)
Justices Tighten Review of California Prison Segregation (The New York Times 2/24)

Get the Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [O'Connor] | Concurrence [Ginsburg] | Dissent [Stevens] | Dissent [Thomas]

Related Stories:
Behind Bars: Native incarceration rates increase (7/13)