You would think methods for disciplining a prisoner for violating a rule would be straightforward, adequate and, most important, fair and honest. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Rules governing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) are codified in the California Code of Regulations (CCR) and the CDCR Departmental Operations Manual (DOM). Many of the rules are acutely vague and ambiguous, leaving the door open for misuse and/or misinterpretation by prison staff.
CCR Section 3312, “Disciplinary Methods,” delineates the following steps for citing a prisoner who may have violated a rule:
#1. Verbal counseling may be used to remind a prisoner of rules or policy, usually for minor misconduct.
#2. A “custodial counseling” chrono (chronological documentation) or CDC-128-A (is issued) if similar or minor misconduct recurs after verbal counseling. The CDC-128-A is placed in the prisoners “C-File” (central file) where it will remain always.
#3. When a prisoner’s misconduct is believed to be a violation of law or is not minor in nature, it is reported on a form CDC-115; “Rules Violation Report” (RVR).
If this protocol disciplinary step process or progressive (bad or disruptive) behavior method was applied as intended, it could possibly help stay bad behavior. Prisoners all over California know the disciplinary step system has been and is still one of the most abused processes behind prison walls next to the prisoner’s appeals system (see “Appealing the Impossible,” Community Alliance, July 2008).
Verbal counseling is often not used to warn a prisoner of possible forthcoming disciplinary action. The more serious CDC-115 is sometimes issued on a whim, clogging up an already overburdened, expensive disciplinary system.
There are prison staff, guards and “free staff” (plain clothed, e.g., teachers, maintenance workers, cooks, custodians) who use the step process reasonably as described in the rules. Some prison staff know how to communicate with prisoners in a non-condescending manner, which almost always concludes with a satisfactory outcome. Other prison staff throughout the prison system deliberately disregard the disciplinary step system, and they do it with malevolent content. The misuse of the step system is wantonly damaging. Rather than initiate the verbal warning to a prisoner for a minor infraction, a more damaging CDC-128-A or CDC-115 is issued.
The most abused and harmful documentation (and many prisoners agree) that is placed in a prisoner’s central file is the CDC-128-A chrono. The abuse of this official document is widespread. Repercussions caused by a CDC-128-A placed in a prisoner’s file can range from unfortunate to bad. It is a prerequisite to the more serious CDC-115 RVR and can be the deciding factor in some life prisoner’s parole hearing decision. Lifers could lose a parole date or be given a lengthy denial based on the content of a CDC-128-A and stay locked up years past their prescribed release date if the parole commissioners decide to use the CDC-128 chrono against the lifer. They often do.
Some of these lifers have been catastrophically affected by the presence of a CDC-128-A in their file. Some of these men and women spend many years, decades, jumping through every hoop queued in front of them in an attempt to change their lives for the better, to become productive, contributing members of society one day. All it takes at times to dash the hopes of a “programming” lifer is for a disgruntled prison staffer to concoct a falsely crafted CDC- 128-A counseling chrono and place it in a prisoner’s file.
The unfortunate difference between a CDC-128-A and a (supposedly) more serious CDC-115 is that with a CDC-115 a prisoner can call witnesses to a hearing, submit exculpatory evidence and ask for an investigation into the alleged accusations and claims by the reporting employee. The prisoner can opt to utilize the “Inmate Appeals” system, albeit another corrupt system. Can’t win for losing. Just the way prison officials want it.
Some prison staff will dubiously seize the opportunity to generate a CDC-128-A after becoming disconcerted by a prisoner’s actions or comments. The presence of this spurious documentation in a central file can be addressed at all future classification hearings that determine the status of a prisoner’s housing, program and assignment situation. Some men and women (prisoners) have been told that due to a CDC-128-A chrono in their files they are disallowed specific access to programs and/or jobs, years after the CDC-128-A was written. This method of punishment is anti-rehabilitative at its worst.
The CDC-128-A counseling chrono is a tool used more often than not as a vindictive method of retaliation by some prison staff, who do so with impunity. Many prison staff lack the necessary communication skills to appropriately and professionally work in close proximity with prisoners. When they feel threatened by their own inability to handle certain encounters regarding a prisoner’s actions, the indefensible CDC-128-A is used. This is not only harmful but also a gross misuse and abuse of power and authority.