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California: Prisoner Not Entitled to Points Reduction in Classification Score Unless Actually Participating in Programs

In a published case, the California Court of Appeal for the Third Appellate

District has held that a prisoner is not entitled to a reduction in his or her classification score for satisfactory performance in a work, school or vocational program if he or she does not actually participate in such a program – even if the failure to participate is not attributable to any fault on the part of the prisoner.

Due to a non-adverse transfer from one facility to another, California prisoner Harvey Z. Jenkins spent more than half a year unassigned to any work, educational or vocational program. At his next annual classification review he received only half of the four-point reduction in his classification score permitted by the regulations for “average or above performance in [a] work, school or vocational program.” (See Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations, section 3375.4, subdivision (a) (3)).

Jenkins filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus seeking to compel the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to reduce his classification score by two additional points, because his transfer had been non-adverse. He argued that as a matter of law and regulation, he was entitled to have his sentence reduced by virtue of being willing to participate in a work or school program, and that it made no sense to deny him a reduction in classification points merely because he was unable to participate in such programs due to circumstances beyond his control. The Superior Court accepted his argument and granted the writ.

On appeal, the Court conceded the premise of Jenkins’ argument (see Penal Code Section 2933, subdivision (a)), but rejected the conclusion. The appellate court noted that the purpose behind sentence-reducing credits was rehabilitation, while the purpose behind classification points was to establish the level of security needed to safely house a prisoner. The Court reasoned that the differing purposes justified different results, and that the denial of the extra two performance points in Jenkins’ case was not arbitrary, capricious or irrational.

“[W]e conclude the warden has demonstrated that the regulation restricting work/school performance points to those inmates who are actually participating in a qualifying program and are performing at average or above-average level in that program has a rational basis,” the Court wrote. “Moreover, we conclude the application of that regulation to deny Jenkins two of the possible four work/school performance points he could have earned for the annual review period, based on the fact that he was unassigned to a program for more than half of that period, was rational as well.”

Accordingly, the writ was denied. See: In re Jenkins, 95 Cal.Rptr.3d 864 (Cal.App. 3 Dist. 2009). Note that the California Supreme Court granted review in this case on October 22, 2009. PLN will report the outcome.

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Related legal case

In re Jenkins