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What is a 602 appeal in the California prison system?
In California prisons, a 602 appeal is the way to challenge any action or decision taken by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). By using a 602 appeal form, inmates in California prisons can have their grievances heard. Exhausting the 602 appeals process is often required before filing a federal lawsuit over prison law violations.
What is the 602 appeals process in California prisons?
The 602 appeals process allows inmates in prisons run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to appeal any decision, action, condition, policy, or regulation of the CDCR. The appeal can be made if the CDCR’s conduct has a material adverse effect on the inmate’s welfare. The 602 appeals process is a “catch-all” process that can only be used if there is no other method of appeal.
The name comes from the form that is used to initiate the appeal: The CDCR 602 Inmate/Parolee Appeal Form.
Inmates who have suffered from a decision or action by the CDCR can file a CDCR 602 Form. On the form, they have to explain what the problem is, and how they want it to be fixed. The Form and any supporting documents, including the Rights and Responsibilities Statement, have to be sent to the Appeals Coordinator within 30 calendar days of the event or decision that is being appealed.1 The only exceptions to this timeframe are when the appeal involves allegations of sexual violence or sexual misconduct by a staff member. These can be filed at any time.2
The CDCR’s first level response is due within 30 working days of the Appeals Coordinator receiving the 602 Form.3
If the inmate is unsatisfied with the first-level response, he or she can appeal it to the second level within 30 calendar days.
The CDCR’s second-level response is due within 30 working days of receiving the appeal. This is the final decision by the particular adult institution.4
If the inmate is still unsatisfied with the second level response, he or she can appeal it to the Chief of Inmate Appeals in Sacramento within 30 calendar days.
The Chief of Inmate Appeals provides the third level of review. The Chief has 60 working days to issue a ruling.5
These time limits are important. If an inmate does not comply with them, his or her appeal may be dismissed.
Group appeals can be made on behalf of a number of inmates when the CDCR decision or policy impacts all of them. The entire group of inmates can file a single 602 appeals form. A list should be attached that includes each inmate’s:
housing unit, and
A single inmate will be responsible for notifying others of the outcome. If that inmate reaches his or her release date or is transferred, the next inmate on the list will become the primary point of contact.
What if the issue has to do with healthcare?
If the inmate is challenging a decision or action by the CDCR that has to do with the inmate’s healthcare, then he or she has to file a 602-HC Form, rather than the normal 602 Form. This covers appeals from decisions related to the inmate’s:
medical care, including staff misconduct regarding medical attention,
dental care, and
The CDCR Form 602-HC for health care appeals is often printed on pink paper.
Is there an emergency process?
602 appeals can be expedited if there is an emergency.
Inmates have the burden of showing that there may be a substantial risk of injury or serious and irreparable harm if there is a delay in the appeals process or if it is not handled in a timely manner.6
If the Appeals Coordinator determines that the situation is an emergency, then the first level of review is skipped. The second level of review has to be completed within 5 working days for emergency appeals.7
If the Appeals Coordinator determines that the situation is not an emergency, the 602 appeal will go through the normal process. The inmate may also be sanctioned for misusing or abusing the appeals process.8
Is the 602 appeals process required before filing a federal lawsuit?
Yes, inmates in the state of California have to exhaust their administrative appeals before they can take their case to federal court.
This is the doctrine of exhaustion. People afflicted by an agency’s decision or conduct, including the CDCR, are required to take their complaint to the agency, first. Only after going through the internal complaint process and exhausting their administrative remedies can they turn to the courts to step in.
In the 602 appeals process, this requires inmates to pursue an internal remedy to their complaint all the way to the third level of review by the Chief of Inmate Appeals. Inmates who stop before that point have not exhausted their internal appeals process and cannot file a lawsuit in court.9
Did the coronavirus pandemic affect these appeals?
Yes, the CDCR put a temporary halt on 602 appeals during the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 25, 2020, the CDCR filed emergency order 2020-0309-01 that effectively stopped 602 appeals from being filed. The only exception was for sexual complaints, including against a CDCR staff person or prison officials.
The order was set to expire on March 10, 2021.
15 California Code of Regulations (CCR) 3084.8(b).