Ct.App. 3 C059321 Lassen County Super. Ct. No. CHW2321. Judge: Dawson Arnold, Commissioner.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chin, J.
A prison inmate's participation in a prison work program may favorably affect that inmate's custody level. Such participation can cause the inmate to be considered a reduced security risk, which in turn may cause the inmate to be placed in a lower security level institution. We must decide whether an inmate who is willing to work but, without his or her fault, is not assigned to a work program may receive the benefit of work participation for classification purposes. The applicable regulations say no; they provide that actual work participation, and not mere willingness to work, is required for an inmate to receive a lower security evaluation. Petitioner contends the regulations are invalid. In accordance with the deference courts generally give to prison authorities in promulgating regulations concerning prison security, we conclude the regulations are valid. It is rational, and not arbitrary, to consider an inmate's actual work performance for purposes of classifying and housing that inmate.
I. Facts and Procedural History
We take these facts, which are undisputed, largely from Justice Robie's opinion in the Court of Appeal.
Petitioner Harvey Zane Jenkins is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He was convicted in 1993 of second degree murder with personal use of a firearm and sentenced to state prison for 15 years to life plus three years. (Pen. Code, §§ 187, 190, subd. (a), 12022.5, subd. (a).) The record indicates that he became eligible for parole on April 29, 2005.
On December 21, 2005, petitioner was transferred from Centinela State Prison to High Desert State Prison. He was not assigned to a work program at High Desert until January 12, 2006. From January 12 to March 9, 2006, he was assigned as "Facility C housing porter." On March 9, he was transferred to another facility within High Desert, where he spent 172 days without a work assignment. He was subsequently assigned to an educational program.
California prison inmates are classified pursuant to a scoring system that determines their prison custody level. (See pt. II, post.) A higher score means the inmate is considered a higher security risk and would be assigned to a correspondingly higher security facility; a lower score means the inmate is considered a lower security risk and would be assigned to a correspondingly lower security facility. After the initial classification, inmates receive an annual classification review. Among the factors considered in this annual review is the inmate's participation in a work, school, or vocational program.
On October 24, 2006, prison authorities conducted the annual review of petitioner's classification score, covering the period from October 1, 2005, through September 30, 2006. Petitioner received a four-point reduction in his score for having no serious disciplinary actions and a two-point reduction (out of a possible maximum of four points) for average or above average performance in a work, school, or vocational program. As was later explained, he was denied the additional two performance points that were available because he "was unassigned to a program for roughly half of the total review period."
Petitioner pursued an internal administrative appeal. He contended that because his transfer to High Desert was not adverse, he was entitled to the full four-point reduction for average or above average performance in a work, school, or vocational program. His appeal was denied at all administrative levels. On July 25, 2007, he filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Lassen County Superior Court. Following In re Player (2007) 146 Cal.App.4th 813 (Player), the superior court determined that because petitioner's work-qualifying status was disrupted based on circumstances and department conduct beyond his control, he was entitled to additional favorable work points. In an order signed and filed April 25, 2008, the court granted petitioner's petition and directed the department "to reduce [his] classification score by two points and to thereupon make whatever adjustments to [his] custody designation, program and institution placement as may appear."
The superior court served its order on the parties by mail on April 29, 2008. On June 27, 2008, the warden of High Desert, represented by the Attorney General, filed a notice of appeal. Originally, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal as untimely because it was not filed within 60 days of the time the superior court signed and filed the order being appealed. (Citing Cal. Rules of Court, rules 8.308(a), 8.388.) Later, the Court of Appeal granted the Attorney General's petition for rehearing, reinstated the appeal, and directed the parties to address in their briefs the issue of whether the appeal was timely. In their briefs in the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General argued, and petitioner conceded, that the appeal was timely because the notice of appeal was filed within 60 days of the date the court served its order on the parties by mail.
The Court of Appeal agreed that the appeal was timely. It summarized its reasoning: "[U]nder [California Rules of Court,] rule 8.308(a), 'a notice of appeal . . . must be filed within 60 days after the rendition of the judgment or the making of the order being appealed.' Where, as here, the order being appealed was not pronounced in open court, but instead was embodied solely in a writing that was prepared, signed, and filed outside the presence of the parties, we conclude 'the making of the order' does not occur until the court undertakes to communicate the substance of its order to the parties in some reasonable manner. That occurred here when the court mailed copies of the written order to the parties four days after the order was signed and filed. Because the warden filed his notice of appeal within 60 days of the date of that mailing, the appeal is timely."
On the merits, the Court of Appeal reversed the superior court's grant of the habeas corpus petition. It summarized its reasoning in this regard also: "[W]e conclude the superior court erred in determining Jenkins was entitled to the additional two work/school performance points for the time he did not actually participate in any work, school, or vocational program. A governing department regulation specifies that '[f]avorable points shall not be granted for average or above average performance for inmates who are not assigned to a program.' (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3375.4, subd. (a)(3)(B).) Because the department's interpretation and application of that regulation here to deny Jenkins the additional work/school performance points he sought was not arbitrary, capricious, or irrational, the department's decision must be upheld."
We granted petitioner's petition for review, which presented the following issue: "Is the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation's denial of favorable classification points for work or school to a prisoner whose classification point-qualifying assignment was disrupted for a period due to a nonadverse transfer to another facility, arbitrary, capricious, and/or irrational in light of the ...