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Friday, March 31, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Rehabilitate prisoners, not privileges

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Rehabilitate prisoners, not privilegesRehabilitate prisoners, not privileges

In New York, there is no policy that justifies ethnic segregation in our penal system. In California, that isn't true. A lawsuit by a man named Garrison Johnson against the California penal system has cast light on why that state remains retarded in so many ways.

For decades, California segregated its prisoners by gang affiliation to avoid violence. The Los Angeles street gangs known as the Crips and the Bloods were kept separate to discourage their violent expression of hatred for each other.

White supremacists, of course, have no bloodletting beefs with each other because they are too busy growling about everyone who is not white. The Nation of Islam, another racist group, tends to hate white people first, integrationist Negroes second and then anyone who calls into question its imbecilic version of Islam (some would argue that the genocidal actions of Muslims in Sudan and the long support of black slavery by believers in the Koran proves pure Islam racist enough).

Garrison Johnson brought his case in 1995 because he was having none of segregation, and it took 10 years to win it. The state of California is now implementing a plan to fully integrate its prisons, which will thrill some and chill others.

Imprisoned for murder since 1987, Johnson did not feel safe being automatically housed with gang members because of his color. "Like the busing and lunch counter segregation policies of years past," he said after winning, "California's practice of separating prisoners by race is a relic of a different era. We're proud to have played a part in bringing this era to a close."

Comparing his case to desegregating a lunch counter is as ludicrous as Roger Toussaint, president of the Transport Workers Union, comparing the recent transit strike to the valor of Rosa Parks and the civil rights movement. Protecting a convicted murderer from knuckleheads ready to maim or kill at the slightest provocation may be the responsibility of the state of California, but it is not some noble act of general significance. It was a less expensive response to the violence that these knuckleheads and loons have exhibited in resistance to rehabilitation.

The ideal response to the problem would be to build prisons in which inmates are always observed by guards and cameras, making their every move virtually public. There are some small prisons that have been built on this model, but the inmates complain of having no privacy.

I do not believe that inmates of prisons constitute an oppressed minority. But I am also sure that if any state responds to the problem of gang violence or bigoted groups by scrutinizing all of the actions of inmates, then civil rights arguments or arguments about cruel and unusual punishment will be hurled around until common sense takes another fall.

Such is the nature of our time.

Originally published on March 26, 2006

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