On appeal from Administrative Action of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
Pressler, Dreier and Bilder.
Plaintiffs-appellants have appealed from administrative orders affecting their residences and status. They are 45 Rahway State Prison inmates who contend they were denied due process when they were transferred from the minimum-security Rahway Camp to residences within the adjacent main prison. Their custodial classification was changed from "full minimum" to "full minimum, inside only" or "gang minimum." Since we here determine that the change in housing did not affect a protectible interest and the reclassification of some inmates to the makeshift category of "full minimum, inside only" did not constitute an actionable deprivation, we affirm the administrative action in substantial part. We remand, however, for a determination of whether those few inmates whose status was increased to "gang minimum" were afforded the procedural safeguards provided by Department of Correction (D.O.C.) standards.
In August 1984 an inmate escaped from the Rahway Camp. On September 6, 1984 the Municipal Council of nearby Carteret demanded the resignation of the prison superintendent "by virtue of his apparent inability to protect the citizens of the Borough of Carteret." On September 23, 1984 another inmate escaped. Both had been convicted of violent crimes, one for murder. The next day the mayor of Woodbridge, another neighboring municipality, instituted legal proceedings in the Chancery Division to close Rahway Camp. Three days later an assistant commissioner of the D.O.C. directed the prison superintendent to relocate men with homicide histories or whose convictions were for crimes engendering notoriety from the
Camp to the main prison. Following meetings of the D.O.C.'s Classification Committee, 94 inmates were relocated and reclassified. Although a number were transferred with "full minimum" status within other minimum security facilities, those who have remained at Rahway under both "full minimum -- inside only" and "gang minimum" status have prosecuted this appeal.
Liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment may arise from either the Due Process Clause itself or the laws of the States. Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 466, 103 S. Ct. 864, 868-69, 74 L. Ed. 2d 675, 685 (1983). Even state statutes and regulations governing the daily operation of prisons can give rise to a liberty interest where the language is "of an unmistakably mandatory character." Id. at 471, 103 S. Ct. at 871, 74 L. Ed. 2d at 688. Not only can state rules create liberty interests apart from those found in the Due Process Clause, but our judicial interpretation of corresponding provisions in our State Constitution, N.J. Const. (1947), Art. I, para. I, can afford protection greater than that provided by the Federal Constitution. See State v. Roth, 95 N.J. 334, 344-345 (1984). Thus under Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 520-521 (1975), we must consider whether the procedures employed were "fair" and "right" in relationship to the purported deprivations. Also, under N.J. Parole Bd. v. Byrne, 93 N.J. 192, 197 (1983) we should examine the legitimacy of any expectations which the inmates may have had for continued status derived from the applicable D.O.C. Standards. We will, therefore, direct our inquiry first to the transfer of residence and next to the changes in classification.
Inmates do not have a protectible interest arising from the Due Process Clause alone in residing in a particular environment. In Hewitt, plaintiff was removed from the general
prison population and placed in "administrative segregation"*fn1 pending the investigation of disciplinary charges against him. The Court declared that "[i]t is plain that the transfer of an inmate to less amenable and more restrictive quarters for non-punitive reasons is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence." 459 U.S. at 468, 103 S. Ct. at 869. Nevertheless, the court found that the inmate's expectation of remaining in the general population arising from Pennsylvania statutes and regulations warranted employment of the procedural safeguards contained in those provisions.
Here no reasonable expectation of housing in a less restrictive facility would arise from D.O.C. Standards. Standard 853.3c provides that:
Inmates classified as full minimum must be assigned to either: (1) work details, jobs, or programs outside the main institution, on or off institutional grounds, with minimal supervision, or (2) a satellite unit or ...