APPEALING THE IMPOSSIBLE
Prisoner’s Recourse Blocked
By: Boston Woodard
There are thousands of rules, regulations and policies governing California’s prison system. The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is operated by a cornucopia of vague and ambiguous decrees and statutes.
The Penal Code (PC), the California Code of Regulations - Title 15 (CCR), the Departmental Operations Manual (DOM), Administrative Bulletins (ABs), Operational Procedures (OPs), Institutional Procedures (IPs), General Orders (GOs), General Policies (GPs), and a gamut of institutionally promulgated rules, usually ordered by the warden or his/her appointees govern the prison system. Many of these rules and policies contradict and/or conflict with each other while some are crystal clear. In the case of gray-area-rules, prison officials always write themselves into the winning end of all dispositions.
Among the rules are regulations that govern the prisoner’s appeals process. All prisoners have a right to appeal any departmental decision, action, condition, or policy that he or she can demonstrate as having an adverse effect upon their welfare as codified in the CCR Title 15 #3084.l. "Right to Appeal." These regulations are supposed to be protected by United States Constitutional due process rights under the First Amendment. Prisoner’s rights are routinely violated or ignored by prison Appeals Coordinators throughout the CDCR.
The CDCR prisoner appeal process affords prisoners and parolees their due process rights and the opportunity to obtain a meaningful remedy to a problem by allowing them to address their grievances in accordance with the provisions of the California Code of Regulations/Title 15. The process directs prisoner complaints through one informal and two formal levels of appeal at the institution Level and a final review at the director’s (head of CDCR) level.
According to the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation’s Operations Manual (DOM), Section 54100.2, the prisoner appeal process is to provide for the resolution of grievances in a timely manner and at the lowest possible Level. The prisoner appeals process is also intended to serve as a vehicle for improving department policies and procedures.
November 22, 2005, the CDCR implemented an Administration Bulletin, AB/05-O3, that announced changes in how prisoner appeals, CDC-FORM—6O2, specifically those identified as Staff Complaints, will be handled. All prisoner complaints which allege any misconduct by a staff member will continue to be logged (issued an appeal number) by the Appeals Coordinator (AC) as a Staff Complaint, Category 7.
At Solano State Prison (CSP-Solano) in Vacaville California (and in other prisons across the state), the prisoner appeals process has become a vehicle for use by institutional staff whereby they continually delay and deny prisoner’s rights. Appeals are constantly returned late to the prisoner in an attempt to squeeze the available 15 day time limit, causing appellants to rush their response leaving little time for research.
There is no accountability at the Informal Level of the appeal process at CSP-Solano. As it is now, Informal Level appeals on legitimate Staff Complaint issues are ignored by M..D. Corioso, S. Cervantes & L.N. Flores. Warden D.K. Sisto has been informed numerous times in writing and refuses to intervene. If an issue is argued, prisoners are told to "wait" until the appeal has been responded to. Those who then attempt to bypass the Informal Level with a duplicate appeal are reprimanded for filing more than one appeal, even though (prison) staff members know that they (the prisoner) will never receive an answer at the Informal level.
Staff are permitted to file for time extensions, sometime delaying the appeals process for many months beyond the expected due date, yet prisoners are not given the same opportunity if
they are given a complex answer or decisions. If the time restrictions are exceeded by the prisoner, the appeal becomes "null and void."
Appeals are consistently "lost" at all levels. If and when an appeal does show up, the prisoner is penalized as if he were responsible for the lapse. Staff members consistently avoid issue within the appeal. Prison staff do not address all the issues in the appeal, many times, specific Actions Requested are ignored.
If a staff decision on an appeal is of a complex nature, prisoners can not add to the Actions Requested. The current appeals system takes advantage of the less-informed (prisoner) general population and typically traps them into an unfair decision because of the lack of insight into the appeals process.
Staff at CSP-Solano frequently employ subterfuge in their attempts to act as if an appealed issue is not as serious as it seems, or as if the prisoner is "mistaken" regarding the issue being appealed.
Prisoners are also limited to one (1) page to describe a problem or situation, while staff employ up to 4-5 pages, to answer an issue forces a prisoner to minimize his own response. This practice allows some points that would be made by a prisoner to go unanswered.
Appeal interviews at CSP-Solano routinely consist of a standard rehearsal of the appealed issue. Staff members rarely review the issue at hand and are frequently ill-prepared during interviews. They waste time by expecting the prisoner to restate what is already written within the appeal. "Cookie-cutter" (non related regulation cites) responses are then afforded/attached onto the appeal in an attempt to confuse the prisoner and clutter the response.
Filing a legitimate Staff complaint (or Citizen’s Complaint) at CSP-Solano is nearly impossible. Countless Staff Complaints filed are either dumbed-down into "program issues" or some other insignificant category, dumbing-down or eliminating the crux of the intended Staff Complaint.
Blatant disregard for regulations governing the processing (issuing a Log Numbers etc.) of ‘Staff Complaints" is alive and well inside the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation CDCR- Several attempts were made to have the following two Staff Complaints filed (logged) against L.N. Flores and S. Cervants; two Appeals Coordinators at Solano State Prison, for misconduct, verbal threats and violation of due process rights. The Staff complaints stemmed from CSP-Solano’s Appeals Office failing to allow me a fair and honest interview and response/decision regarding another appeal (#CSP-S-07-030B0) filed in August of 2007.
The two Staff Complaints (in their entirety) against Appeals Coordinators S. Cervantes and L.N. Flores are true and accurate accounts of their actions:
"INMATE/PAROLEE APPEAL FORM"
STAFF (CITIZEN’S) COMPLAINT
(Filed Against CSP-Solano’s Appeals Coordinator L.N. FLORES)
February 19, 2008
On February 6, 2008, I received the bogus Second Level Response on the Pro-Forma interview by L.N. Flores CC-II(A) Appeals Specialist. This is a "Staff Complaint" on L.N. Flores for chilling the effect and exercise of my First Amendment Rights of the U.S. Constitution, as well as violation of the Title 15 California Code of Regulations (CCR) Sections; 3084.l.(a) "Right to Appeal," 3084.1.(d) "No reprisals shall be taken against an inmate or parolee for filing an appeal;" 3084.l.(e), 3291(a) "Employee Law Enforcement and Peace Officer" which states in pertinent part, "Law Enforcement Responsibility. All employees of the department shall be responsible to enforce laws, regulations and procedures. . ."
On January 10, 2008, I received a bogus 2nd Level interview by L.N. Flores, CC-II (A) Appeals Specialist regarding the issues in Group Appeal #CSP-S-07-03080.
During the onset of the interview, and before Flores was seated, he began the interview with an onslaught of verbal threats toward me. Flores opened a dark blue folder and removed a one-page newspaper article I had published in a Fresno newspaper, Community Alliance, and several Web-sites on the World Wide Web.
The article titled "Hog-Tied" is about a young Cambodian prisoner, Sophanareth Sok, who was the victim of a forced transfer to an out-of-state private prison in Mississippi. The article also describes the blatant violations of Mr. Sok’s due process rights during his attempts to file a Group Appeal with the CSP-Solano’s Appeals Office.
L.N. Flores slammed the article on the table in front of him, slid it toward me and stated, "I want to set some ground rules right now before we do anything!" I asked Flores what he was so upset about and his retort was, "I’m talking about this, these lies. No one was Hog-tied." Flores went on to say, "I done some research on the Internet about you and I know you are a journalist. My name better not ever appear in one of your articles! Are we clear?’ Flores repeated this (about his name appearing in an article) several times within a few minutes.
I tried to explain to Flores that my journalistic activities has nothing to do with the Group Appeal he came to interview me about at the 2nd Level. Flores stated, "Yes it does, it has everything to do with it. I don’t want my name mentioned, do you understand that Mr. Woodard?"
At one point, I asked Flores if he would recuse himself from the interview because he was extremely agitated, and, because the appeal was about the abuses of CSP-Solano’s Appeals Office itself, to which he was acting appeals coordinator. Flores left the interview and made a phone call within my view, talked to someone for a few minutes, returned and stated, "I am going to handle this interview."
After approximately 15 minutes, Flores seemed to collect himself and began questioning me about the appeal. All of this was done in the immediate presence of prisoner Steven Bitz, who was present during the entire interview and is an appellant of Group Appeal #CSP-S-07-03080. (it should be noted that during the interview, Flores kept asking Mr. Bitz who was taking notes, "Why are you here again?" and "Why do you need to be here?" and "What can you contribute?") Number #18 on the Group Appeal’s Action Requested to have more than one prisoner present because of the complexity of the appeal was not simply "granted" as the 2nd Level response would indicate. Numerous letters (by me) were written to Warden D.K. Sisto, Appeals Coordinator M.D. Cocioso, W.A. Rodriguez Associate Warden, and N. Grannis Chief inmate Appeals in Sacramento before it was reluctantly agreed upon to have Mr. Bitz present at the interview per the California Code of Regulations (CCR) 3084.3.(a)&(l).
As the interview progressed, Flores agreed that there were "many things" wrong with the appeals process and that ‘many staff members mishandled" and/or "lose" appeals during the process. Flores agreed with number 4-B of the Action Requested that "locked appeal drop boxes" should be mounted throughout the prison and only appeals personnel be allowed to have the keys. These lock boxes would virtually eliminate "lost or mishandled" appeals which Flores agrees happens frequently. The appeals would also be "logged" before being placed into the locked appeals boxes which would put in place an accountability system that would eliminate conjecture when an appeal is submitted eliminating all the bogus "nulling and voiding" of appeals that were "lost or not filed." Flores agreed with all of this and went as far as to state, "I think this is a great idea and [as appeals coordinator] I’m 95% sure that this will happen. It’s a great idea." Flores went on to say that, "This would also benefit appeals staff and inmates if implemented"
The Second Level Response that logging appeals was "partially granted" was not true. The Action Requested was eliminated by switching to a subject that had no bearing on the cause of action for the sole purpose of avoiding the cause of action, which specifically asks for a logging system to be put in place to handle appeals at the initial filing (via log book in the housing units) for the purpose of tracking and accountability. It should be noted that the 2nd Level Response for Action Requested #2, Flores stated, "partially granted," is a bald face lie. Because of Flores’ subterfuge response, a Category One Investigation should be conducted via the Office of Internal Affairs as Administrative Bulletin 05-03 calls for.
The Second level Response also ‘granted" Action Requested 4-A as if it were my right all along to attach my declaration [to an appeal]. My personal declaration of July 10, 2007 was erroneously rejected FIVE times; August 23, 2007, August 28, 2007, September 7, 2007, September 12, 2007 and September 20, 2007; (see attached CDC 695 Forms). In order for me to be issued a Log Number for the Group Appeal, I was threatened and coerced into removing my personal declaration before a Log Number was issued. The Warden’s/Appeals Coordinator’s full "grant" on this cause of action, is an unequivocal admission that CC-II Corioso’s actions were highly illegal, retaliatory and chilled my First Amendment Rights- therefore, a Category One Investigation should be conducted into the gross misconduct pursuant to Administrative Bulletin 05-03. According to personal memorandums to me from: M Corioso, CC-II Appeals Coordinator 9/19/07, W.A. Rodriguez, Associate Warden HCS 9/26/07, and Warden D.K Sisto 10/29/07 insisting on keeping my declaration attached to the appeal may result in a . . .referral to the Chief of Inmate Appeals Branch for consideration of inmate appeals restriction status," ". . . the disputed appeal was screened out and returned to you on three (3) occasions. . . [you]. . . have been advised to limited your continuation of your appeal to one page," and "It is inappropriate for you to continue to write this office regarding issues that are now pending Administrative Appeal Review," respectively. So, the Second Level Response that Action Requested 4-A was "granted" does not signify the mental stress and torment I had to endure in my attempts to simply put a personal declaration with the Group Appeal.
Flores also agreed during the Second Level Interview that #16 (access to duplication) was a "good idea" and that he "believe[s] this would be an easy problem to solve." This too was a bald face lie as evidenced by the denial of the Action requested.
As to the Actions Requested numbers #1, #3 thru #15 are all bogus denials cloaked under the "partial" or full "grants" which are meaningless. Based on the bogus responses, we ask again that a Category One Investigation be conducted into the gross misconduct, ie. covering up responses by L.N. Flores CC-II, D.K. Sisto and the "Doe" individual who scribbled his or her signature for Warden Sisto on January 17, 2008 2nd Level Response to Group APPEAL CSP-S-07-03080.
This brings me to the on-going, chilling of my Constitutionally protected rights, by failing in his ministerial duty under Penal Code Section 832.5 and the aforementioned cited Title 15 Sections1 providing me with a specious Second Level Response, as to the 21 causes of action, although appearing to "partially grant" certain causes of action, in reality all of the responses are nothing but raw-hooey!
ACTION REQUESTED AGAINST L.N. FLORES
#1. A CATEGORY ONE INVESTIGATION; #2. APPROPRIATE ACTION BE TAKEN; #3. THE OFFICE OF INTERNAL AFFAIRS BE NOTIFIED IE. THE INVESTIGATION; #4. CC-II L.N. FLORES BE GIVEN ETHICS TRAINING; #5. CC-II L.N. FLORES BE GIVEN A FULL & COMPLETE EVALUATION TO ADDRESS HIS THREATS AND EMOTIONAL ISSUES; #6. CC-II L.N. FLORES BE GIVEN IN-SERVICE-TRAINING (1ST) ON THE PRINCIPLES OF TITLE 15 CCR SECTIONS 3O84.l.(a), 3O84.1.(d), 3O84.l.(e) AND HOW THE TITLE 15 HAS THE FACE OF LAW; #7. NO FURTHER THREATS, REPRISALS OR CHILLING OF MY FIRST AMENDMENT RIGHTS BE MADE AGAINST ME.
(Concludes Staff Complaint filed against L.N. FLORES)
"INMATE PAROLEE APPEAL FORM"
STAFF (CITIZEN’S) COMPLAINT
(Filed against CSP-Solano’s Appeals Coordinator S. Cervantes)
February 24, 2008
This is a Citizen’s (Staff) Complaint under Penal Code Sections 830.5 & 148.6 on Appeals Coordinator S. Cervantes, for violating California Code of Regulations (CCR) TITLE 15, Sections 3084.l.(a) "Right to Appeal," 3044 & 3391(a), chilling the effect and exercise of my constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment - when Appeals Coordinator S. Cervantes on 2/21/08 (see attached CDC Form 695 of 2/21/08) screened out my Staff Complaint on "Acting" Appeals Coordinator L.N. Flores CC-II for misconduct he (Flores) as the Second Level interviewer on Appeal Log Number #CSP-S-07-03080.
Appeals Coordinator S. Cervantes falsely claimed in his rejection (see CDC Form 695 of 2/21/08) screening form; "YOU HAVE SUBMITTED AN APPEAL THAT DUPLICATES A PREVIOUS APPEAL UPON WHICH A DECISION HAS BEEN RENDERED OR IS PENDING; CCR 3084.3(c)(2)."
The screening form further reads: "DUPLICATE TO CDC-602 APPEAL LOG #CSP-S-07-03080." The use of CCR 3O84.3.(c)(2) does not apply in rejecting the Staff Complaint against L.N. Flores as Appeal #CSP-S-07-03080 concerns departmental policy, i.e. the Staff Complaint on L.N. Flores is on his misconduct which includes verbal threats, including but not limited to, other misconduct he committed during the investigative process of Appeal #CSP-S-07-03080 and investigating, preparing and responding for Warden O.K. Sisto.
The Staff Complaint against L.N. Flores is clearly not a ‘duplicate’ appeal.
ACTION REQUESTED AGAINST S. CERVANTES
#1- CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION ON APPEALS COORDINATOR S. CERVANTES BASED ON D.O.M. SECTION 31140. et seq; #2. TAKE APPROPRIATE ACTION REGARDING THIS STAFF COMPLAINT; #3. THE STAFF COMPLAINT ON L.N. FLORES BE LOGGED AND ISSUED A LOG NUMBER BASED ON THE AFOREMENTIONED D.O.M. SECTION AND ADMINISTRATIVE BULLETIN 05/03; #4. LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATION BASED UPON D.OM. SECTION 54100-25-2 AS I UNDERSTAND THIS FALLS WITHIN A CATEGORY ONE (1) INVESTIGATION.
[Concludes Staff Complaint tiled against S. Cervantes]
Solano State Prison’s present Appeals Coordinator, S. Cervantes, erroneously rejected the aforementioned Staff Complaint against L.N. Flores three times claiming that it is a "duplicate" of the appeal filed against appeal procedures. One appeal is about departmental policy and the one against L.N. Flores is about his misconduct and verbal threats toward me. The appeals have absolutely different problems, different actions requested, different dates etc., they clearly do not duplicate one another. Appeals Coordinator Cervantes is in violation of the law and other regulations pertaining issuing Log Numbers to prisoners filing Staff Complaints. It should be noted that Appeals Coordinator S. Cervantes has been erroneously screening out multiple Staff Complaints filed against staff members at Solano State Prison; including at least one Staff Complaint on him.
In a California State Prison - Solano "Warden’s Executive Staff Meeting" memorandum (minutes) last year, CSP-Solano’s Appeals Office, specifically Appeals Coordinators M.D. Corioso, S. Cervantes and P. Gutierrez, were praised and "thanked... for the dramatic decrease in appeal numbers" at this prison. This, after they systematically screened out hundreds of appeals (Staff Complaints included) for what many prisoners say are "erroneous" and "retaliatory" reasons. Prisoners have proof in writing of the abuses and blatant disregard for their due process rights by the Appeals Office.
Two months after I attempted to file the Staff Complaint against L.N. Flores, and after my appeal against the CDCR departmental policy (pertaining to appeals) has been investigated/reviewed at the Third (and final) Level at the Director of Correction’s office in Sacramento, L.N. Flores, with blessings from the Appeals Office, has begun retaliating against me for filing what he now claims as "false allegations against a Peace Officer." Flores’ retaliation against me is in the form of a CDC-128-A Disciplinary Custodial Counseling documentation dated 4/22/08. Flores is also attempting to cover his hide by writing the bogus CDC-128-A disciplinary action against me probably because the Appeals Branch in Sacramento has launched their own investigation into the dissatisfaction (response) I submitted on Flores’ fraudulent Second Level interview.
The disciplinary action leveled against me is no doubt the beginning of much more forthcoming retaliation. This is not the first time prison officials have attempted to silence me for exercising my First Amendment Rights; or for filing grievances in order to continue my journalistic activities.
In October of 1999, the California Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit with me after prison officials violated my First Amendment Rights for my journalistic activities; WOODARD V. DUNCAN - U.S. Central District Court #No. CV 96-4186 ABC (RZx)
Mail tampering, verbal threats, refusing to process legitimate appeals against prison staff, documenting false disciplinary charges, ignoring written law, and a litany of other illegal and unprofessional tactics are again being leveled against me, and other prisoners, at Solano State Prison.
A real investigation of Solano State Prison’s Appeals Office, would certainly uncover a multitude of serious deficiencies and violations regarding the practices of that office. Dozens of Staff Complaints are being dumbed-down, re-categorized, mishandled or lost. It seems what ever it takes to make a Staff Complaint go away -- skies the limit here at CSP-Solano. Appeals Coordinators M.D- Corioso, S. Cervantes, P. Gutierrez and L.N. Flores have systematically denied the rights of prisoners to file (log) a Staff Complaint at CSP-Solano.
Warden D.K. Sisto and some administrative subordinates, condone and assist these actions by allowing these violations to continue
As California’s prison "crisis" rolls on with no end in sight; inhumane overcrowding, despicable prisoner health care, filthy/unsafe housing milieus and a litany of other problems abound. A prisoner’s only internal recourse, the appeals/grievance process, is being disrespected and dishonored by prison officials who are in violation of due process statutes regarding prisoner’s rights.
The diseased prison appeals system in California is state-wide, but none, if any, are as broken or are in violation of the law as the Appeals Office at Solano State Prison. I challenge any honest, independent audit and/or investigation to prove me wrong.
Boston Woodard is a prisoner/journalist who wrote for the San Quentin News, The Soledad Star and edited The Communicator. The Department of Corrections pulled the plug on all three publications.
Boston Woodard, B-88207
P.O. Box 4000
Vacaville. CA. 95696-4000
You can read Boston’s previous articles here:
published: Wednesday Apr 23rd, 2008
Published: Friday Apr 11th, 2008 2:37 PM
The Shell Game
Published: Thursday Mar 27th, 2008 4:00 PM
Medical Snafu, Ongoing Prison Problem
Published: Thursday Feb 14th, 2008 4:18 PM
Parole Board Pillory
Published: Sunday Dec 16th, 2007 1:36 PM
Hog-Tied (The Transferring of Sophanareth Sok)
Published: Thursday Oct 4th, 2007 6:53 PM
Foreign National Prisoners, Targeted For Out-Of-State Transfers
Published: Saturday Sep 1st, 2007 2:18 PM
" H 0 R R I F I E D "
Published: Sunday Aug 19th, 2007 9:23 AM
Published: Friday Jun 8th, 2007 8:42 PM
The Parole Conundrum
Published: Monday Dec 18th, 2006 5:32 PM