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San Quentin Trial for Racial Segregation

Details on illegal practices of racial segregation in San Quentin. Trial wil be held on November 24 at Marin County Superior Court.

San Quentin Prisoners Challenge Racial Segregation
Viet Mike Ngo (E-21895), a prisoner at San Quentin
State Prison at time of original filing, has
petitioned the Marin County Superior Court for a writ
of habeas corpus regarding the prison’s illegal racial
segregation of inmates in housing and discipline, a
violation of the 14th Amendment of the US and
California State Constitutions. Inmate Ngo claims
that San Quentin assigns inmates their cellmates based
solely upon the race of the prisoner, resulting in a
near exclusive segregation of inmates by race.

The petition has moved past the preliminary stages of
judicial review; the third and final stage of the
trial is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. on Monday, November
24, 2003 (see below), when Warden Jeanne Woodford will
take the stand on the segregation policies. If the
court rules in Ngo’s favor, San Quentin State Prison
and the California Department of Corrections (CDC)
could be charged and held liable for the violation of
prisoners’ civil rights. As a result of this
petition, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office have
moved to conduct a federal inquiry into the matter.

The crux of Ngo’s claim is summarized in a favorable
1994 ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth
Circuit (Johnson v. State of California) regarding
similar charges of formal racial segregation in
California’s prison system dating back as far as 1987.
Despite the firm condemnation presented in the
Court’s opinion, the CDC has persisted in its illegal
policy for the past fifteen years. In Ngo’s case, the
former Warden of San Quentin – Daniel Vasquez –
supported inmate Ngo’s claims by testifying that San
Quentin uses race as the primary factor in housing

As Ngo alleges, the practice of racial segregation is
more than a violation of prisoners’ constitutional
rights, which denies them the choice of cellmate and
the freedom from unwarranted group punishment. It
provides a means for the prison administration to
manufacture and manipulate racial conflict and
violence between prisoners. It also impacts the
critical issue of overcrowding or ‘double bunking’
insofar as incoming prisoners are not assigned to
available space if they cannot be racially paired off.
Moreover, the current classification system singles
out Jewish prisoners for particularly cruel and
unusual punishment. It categorizes Jewish prisoners
as ‘white,’ often forcing them into cells with
prisoners who hold explicit commitments to or
membership in anti-Semitic, white supremacist
organizations. Prisoners have a right to serve time
without being subjected to degrading racial
segregation and racist terror.

We urge all concerned individuals, legal and political
organizations to lend their support to this effort.
If successful, it could mark a major shift in the
racial politics of imprisonment in the US’s largest
prison system. If you are interesting in joining the
campaign to end racial segregation in California’s
prisons, please contact us!

The case will be decided by Marin County Judge Verna


Monday, November 24, 2003, 9:00AM

Press Contact:

Charles Carbone, Esq.
CA Prison Focus
charleseye [at]

Jared Sexton
jcsexton [at]

Court Address:

Marin County Superior Court
Hall of Justice, Dept. J
3501 Civic Center Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
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