This is an interactive map of the main yard at Folsom State Prison, California’s second-oldest correctional facility.
Folsom became the fourth state prison to racially integrate cells, a process that started in February 2010.
Get a glimpse of the sights and sounds of the yard that few people ever see as we explore how inmates and staff have been impacted by this process.Explore the yard!
A Close Look at Racial Politics Behind Bars
In February 2010, Folsom State Prison, the state’s second oldest, became the fourth institution in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation system to implement the integrated housing program. The program is the result of a mediated settlement reached after inmate Garrison Johnson’s lawsuit reached the Supreme Court, which in 2005 remanded the case back to lower courts after ruling that any segregation by race is Constitutionally suspect.
But as the integrated housing program proceeds, questions remain about its impact on racial stratification within California’s prisons. Prison officials cannot provide data on cell integration rates or costs of the program’s implementation. Inmates and staff at Folsom and Mule Creek state prisons said the program had resulted in little change in terms of cell integration or race relations.
Photography by Guilherme Kfouri
Reporting by Robert Rogers
Web production by Elizabeth Peirce
From race-based to a more complex housing formula
For decades, new or newly-transferred inmates have been assigned cells based on race. “It was just a desire to keep people from killing each other,” said CDCR spokeswoman Terry Thornton. “It was never a policy, never written down, but it was done, we're not going to deny that.”
The integrated housing program is meant to change that.
After an exhaustive review of all inmates in California prisons, each was assigned an integrated housing program code.
The code provides CDCR officials a guide to decide how to house inmates.
All inmates are reviewed when they are received by CDCR. Inmates are re-evaluated annually.
Based on the research, each inmate was designated one of five categories, ranging from “racially eligible” to “restricted by refusal.” Other case factors used in making housing decisions include the inmate’s offense, disciplinary history, mental health and length of sentence.
CDCR does not have data on how many cells are integrated, but officials have said that about two-thirds of inmates are racially eligible for integration.
Individual case factors like a history of racial violence and gang association can preclude inmates from being deemed racially eligible.
Legal origins of Integrated Housing Policy
Garrison Johnson became a notorious name in California corrections when he filed a racial discrimination lawsuit in 1995.
In his complaint, Johnson argued that race-based housing "...effectively erected whites only, blacks only, Hispanics only signs over the portals of the California prison system.”
Johnson, a convicted murderer, claimed that for years he had been forced to share cells with only other black inmates during transfers between wings and institutions.
After winding through state and federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that even temporarily segregating inmates by race is constitutionally suspect and should be subject to tight judicial scrutiny.
The legal opinion stipulates that unless strong reasons exist to segregate inmates - such as achieving prison safety when no other method could be used - discriminating by race in housing assignments, including double-cells, is legally indefensible. That does not mean, however, that the system is forcing integration.
Inmates still have the option to self-segregate and many choose to stick with cell-mates of the same race.
The case was remanded back to the Ninth Circuit Court and the parties agreed to mediation. The integrated housing program emerged out of this, as CDCR agreed to no longer use race as the sole determinative factor in housing inmates.
Outlook for integrating California’s prison cells
As of July 2010, four state prisons had implemented the integrated housing program. Sierra Conservation Center and Mule Creek State Prison were the first, in October 2008. California Medical Facility in Vacaville was next, in November 2009, followed by Folsom State Prison in February 2010. CDCR Spokeswoman Terry Thornton said there was only one disruption, a brief, nonviolent work stoppage at Sierra Conservation Center.
Moving forward, Thornton said CDCR has no long-term timetable that schedules integrated housing implementation at all of the state’s men’s institutions.
At the same time, Thornton said there are no statistics revealing how many cells in the institutions are racially-integrated. During a count conducted by reporters of a wing of 100 cells at Mule Creek, about 30 percent were racially-integrated.
In Texas, where courts ordered forced cell integration of a previously segregated system, 62 percent of cells are integrated.
Five more prisons are expected to implement integrated housing by the end of 2011.
Visit Mule Creek State Prison
Mule Creek State Prison was one of the first prisons to implement the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's Integrated Housing Policy in 2008.
Two years later, inmates and staff still struggle with the effects of the policy, which was the result of a court-mediated settlement resolving a lawsuit alleging segregation in transfer and intake centers.
In late June, UC Berkeley News21 reporters Guilherme Kfouri and Robert Rogers interviewed more than a dozen inmates and staff and toured facilities at Mule Creek. In one of the housing wings, 31 of 100 cells were integrated with two inmates of different races.
Inmates interviewed were generally opposed to the program and the idea of being housed with inmates of other races.