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HLUCHAN v. FAUVER

October 29, 1979

STEPHEN HLUCHAN, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM H. FAUVER, Commissioner, New Jersey Department of Correction; ROBERT S. HATRAK, Superintendent, Rahway State Prison; and CLASSIFICATION COMMITTEE AT RAHWAY STATE PRISON, NEW JERSEY, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STERN

This Pro se prisoner's civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, challenges the constitutionality of a New Jersey State Prison regulation which prevents state prison inmates who have been convicted of more than one "sex offense" from attaining "minimum custody status" and thus becoming eligible for certain benefits, such as work release and furlough programs. Both the plaintiff and the defendants have moved for summary judgment. After a careful review of the record, the Court concludes that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that summary judgment is appropriate. *fn1" The Court holds that the challenged regulation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, by failing to define "sex offense." The regulation thereby fails to ensure that those who are similarly situated will be similarly treated, and that there is a rational basis for denying the minimum custody status to one class of prisoners that is accorded to others.

Plaintiff Stephen Hluchan is currently confined at Rahway State Prison, serving fifteen-to-twenty years for rape and open lewdness. When he began serving his sentence in October 1976, he was placed in "maximum custody." On October 16, 1978, plaintiff filed this action, naming as defendants William H. Fauver, the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Correction; Robert S. Hatrak, the Superintendent of the New Jersey State Prison Rahway; and the Classification Committee at Rahway State Prison. *fn2" Plaintiff complains that his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection are violated by the operation of the New Jersey Department of Corrections' Departmental Standard 853.278, which provides in pertinent part:

 
An inmate with more than one sex offense in his record is ineligible for minimum custody. *fn3"
 
Under that Standard, plaintiff, whose record contains two "sex offenses," will never be considered for minimum custody. He is simply ineligible. *fn4"
 
Plaintiff seeks (1) a declaratory judgment that the State Corrections' Standard violates his constitutional rights, (2) an injunction proscribing the enforcement of Standard 853.278, and (3) his costs of suit.
 
I.
 
NEW JERSEY PRISONER CLASSIFICATION SYSTEM
 
Within the prison system, there are three custody levels to which the Classifications Committees may assign inmates: maximum, gang minimum, and minimum. The difference between these levels is set forth in Standard 853.271:
 
In maximum custody, inmates are assigned to a range of activities within the institution enclosure under constant supervision. In gang minimum custody, inmates are assigned to activities within the institutional grounds under the continuous surveillance of a supervisor. In minimum custody, inmates are assigned to activities and movements within the areas of institutional jurisdiction without constant supervision; or they are assigned to satellite units. Minimum custody is a prerequisite for considering the assignment of inmates to satellite units and community release programs such as work release and furlough. *fn6"
 
The criteria for minimum custody eligibility are described in Standard 853. *fn7" Standard 853.273 sets forth certain "General Considerations for Reduced Custody." It prescribes that decisions on changes in custody are to be "based upon institutional reports and the criteria of eligibility of the custody level." Id. With respect to minimum custody it states:
 
An inmate is considered for minimum custody when he has made a satisfactory institutional adjustment and when he can meet all the criteria for eligibility. In addition, it must be the judgment of the Institutional Classification Committee that he can successfully benefit from reduced custodial supervision. *fn8"
 
One of the criteria for eligibility is the length of the sentence an inmate is serving. Inmates with maximum sentences in excess of ten years must spend some time incarcerated in maximum custody before they can be considered for minimum custody. The longer the sentence, the longer the required time in maximum custody. Standard 853.275. In addition, the inmate who has served some time in maximum custody must generally be placed in gang minimum custody prior to his assignment to full minimum and must show a satisfactory adjustment to the intermediate level before further reduction is considered. Standard 853.273.
 
The Standards also provide, however, that certain classes of inmates, despite the fact that they meet the general criteria for eligibility for minimum custody, may never attain that reduced status. Inmates serving sentences for "escape" or "attempted escape" (Standard 853.276), or who have specific kinds of detainers lodged against them (Standard 853.277), or who have more than one offense of arson, fire setting, or malicious destruction (involving arson) in their records (Standard 853.279) are ineligible for minimum custody. ...

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