IN RE: Ervin BRANSON

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Court of Appeal, First District, Division 4, California.

IN RE: Ervin BRANSON, et al., on Habeas Corpus.

AO21188.

Decided: June 29, 1983

John K. Van de Kamp, Atty. Gen., Daniel J. Kremer, Chief Asst. Atty. Gen., Crim. Div., William D. Stein, Asst. Atty. Gen., Thomas A. Brady, Linda Ludlow, Deputy Attys. Gen., San Francisco, for appellant. Eileen Matteucci, Public Interest Law Firm, H. David Grunbaum, San Jose, Quin Denvir, State Public Defender, Michael S. McCormick, Deputy State Public Defender, San Francisco, for respondents. Baker, Brauer, Saldivar & Newby, San Jose, for intervenors and respondents.

In this habeas corpus proceeding the People appeal from an order (9C) that in effect requires the Santa Clara County Sheriff to compute release dates of all county jail prisoners by giving them the maximum (50%) worktime credit that state prisoners can earn under Penal Code section 2933, as of January 1, 1983.1  The issue is whether the prisoners' constitutional right to equal protection of the law requires the state to give county jail prisoners, that is misdemeanants and persons serving jail time as a condition of probation or for contempt, the maximum worktime credit that felons in state prison can earn.  (U.S. Const., Amend. XIV, § 1;  Cal. Const., art. I, § 7, subd. (a).)  This case does not involve a “Sage” issue, that is, whether equal protection of the law requires that convicted felons who are sentenced to state prison be given worktime credit for time in county jail before conviction and transfer to state prison.2  (See People v. Sage (1980) 26 Cal.3d 498, 165 Cal.Rptr. 280, 611 P.2d 874.)

Under Penal Code section 4019 a county jail prisoner's right to goodtime/worktime credit can reduce the prisoner's term of confinement by one-third.   For each six-day period of confinement, one day is deducted from the term of confinement unless the prisoner has not satisfactorily complied with reasonable rules and regulations established by the sheriff.  (Pen.Code, § 4019, subd. (c).)  For each six-day period of confinement, one day is deducted from the term of confinement unless the prisoner has refused to satisfactorily perform labor as assigned by the sheriff.  (Pen.Code, § 4019, subd. (b).)  A county jail prisoner is entitled to worktime credit even if he or she performs no work, provided he or she has not refused to work.   A county jail prisoner is entitled to goodtime/worktime credits while participating in the county's work furlough program.  (Pen.Code, § 1208, subd. (f).)  Also, the board of supervisors may authorize the sheriff to offer a voluntary program under which any person committed to the jail may perform 10 hours of labor on the public works or ways in lieu of one day of confinement.  (Pen.Code, § 4024.2.)

A state prisoner's term of confinement may be reduced as provided in Penal Code sections 2930–2935, and 4019, subdivision (a)(4).   Before January 1, 1983, a state prisoner's “good behavior and participation credit” could reduce the prisoner's term of confinement by one-third.  (Pen.Code, § 2931.)   New legislation, which took effect on January 1, 1983, enables a state prisoner to earn worktime credit and thereby reduce his term of confinement by one-third or one-half, depending on whether the prisoner performs full-time work or participates in training or education programs established by the Director of Corrections.  (Pen.Code, § 2933.)   Every prisoner who refuses to accept a full-time credit qualifying assignment, or who is denied the opportunity to earn worktime credits for disciplinary reasons, is not entitled to worktime credit reduction.  (Pen.Code, § 2933, subd. (a).)  Worktime credits may be forfeited and restored.  (Pen.Code, §§ 2931, subd. (c), 2932, 2933, subds. (c) and (d).)

Worktime credits apply for performance in work assignments and performance in elementary, high school, or vocational education programs.  (Pen.Code, § 2933.)   For every six months of full-time performance in a credit qualifying program, as designated by the director, a prisoner is entitled to worktime reductions of six months.3  (Pen.Code, § 2933.)   A lesser amount of credit based on this ratio must be awarded for any lesser period of continuous (full-time) performance.  (Pen.Code, § 2933.)

Penal Code section 2933, subdivision (a), provides that less than maximum credit should be awarded, pursuant to regulations adopted by the director, for prisoners not assigned to a full-time credit qualifying program.   Except for prisoners who have committed serious disciplinary infractions, every prisoner who is willing to participate in a full-time credit qualifying assignment, but is either not assigned to a full-time assignment (due to unavailability of a work or training program), or is assigned to a program for less than full-time, is entitled to “no less credit than is provided under section 2931,” meaning one-third credit.   Similarly, a state prisoner enrolled in a two- or four-year college program leading to a degree is entitled to “time credits equal to that provided in section 2931,” meaning one-third credit.   Also, every prisoner who voluntarily accepts a half-time credit qualifying assignment in lieu of a full-time assignment is entitled to “worktime credit reductions ․ of three months for each six-month period of continued performance,” 4 meaning one-third credit reduction.   And, a state prisoner may be entitled to one-third goodtime/worktime credit for county jail time served before conviction and sentence to state prison.  (Pen.Code, § 4019, subd. (a)(4).)

The foregoing review of Penal Code sections 2931, 2933, and 4019 shows that county jail prisoners are given the same amount of credit on their terms of confinement as are state prisoners who do not participate full-time in a work or training program.   The petitioners (county jail inmates) in this case nevertheless argue that their constitutional right to equal protection of the law is violated by the state's failure to provide them with equal opportunity to reduce their terms of confinement by 50 percent—the credit state prisoners can earn in a full-time work program.   There is little, if any, merit to that argument.

 The first prerequisite to a meritorious claim under the equal protection clause is a showing that the state has adopted a classification that affects two or more similarly situated groups in an unequal manner.  (In re Eric J. (1979) 25 Cal.3d 522, 530, 159 Cal.Rptr. 317, 601 P.2d 549.)   Although state prisoners and county jail prisoners are similarly situated in that both groups are confined, they are not so similarly situated as to preclude different terms of confinement.   Misdemeanants in the county jail and felons in state prison are, by definition, different classes of criminals who may be punished differently.  (See Pen.Code, §§ 16–17.)   If the Legislature can prescribe different terms of confinement for state prisoners and county jail inmates, without violating their right to equal protection of the law, the Legislature can also prescribe different conditions and amounts of credit for reduction of those terms of confinement.

Accordingly, we conclude that equal protection of the law does not require the state to give county jail prisoners the maximum worktime credit that felons in state prison can earn for full-time work.

Order 9C is reversed.

FOOTNOTES

FOOTNOTE.  

1.   Order 9C states:  “․ the sheriff is ordered to give all prisoners release dates computed under the equal credit rule, three days credit for three days in custody equals six days served, as to time in custody starting January 1, 1983, subject to revocation under rules similar to those of the Department of Corrections.   The credit only applies to a commitment for six days or longer.   This order is effective January 10, 1983, at 4:00 p.m.   Dated:  January 3, 1983.”

2.   Although order 9C purports to apply to “all prisoners” in the county jail, including convicted felons sentenced to state prison, the order must be limited to convicted misdemeanants and persons serving jail time as a condition of probation, or for contempt.   In this case the sheriff did not have authority to release convicted felons sentenced to state prison.   Their “conduct credit” must be computed and awarded by the sentencing court or by the Department of Corrections.

3.   Full-time work or training assignments mean eight hours per day, five days per week, exclusive of meal time.  (Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 15, § 3044, subd. (a).)

4.   Half-time work or training assignments mean four hours per day, five days per week, exclusive of meal time.  (Cal.Admin.Code, tit. 15, § 3044, subd. (a).)

THE COURT: ** FN** Before CALDECOTT, P.J., and RATTIGAN and POCHÉ, JJ.