Decided: July 27, 1987.
CHARLES JENKINS, LLOYD MUHAMMAD, EDWARD R. WILLIAMS, JOHN KING, RA'D ABDUL-RAMIM MUHAMMAD, HENRY T. MULKA, RANDOLPH JENKINS, ABDOUR ALRABB SHABAZZ, WYNFIELD ANDERSON, PETER SINACORE, DONALD PHILLIPS, JAMES TATUM, WILLIAM MOORE, EARL BENNETT, EDWARD H. BARRY, RASHEED S. ALI, EDDIE JEROME PEOPLES, II, GEORGE AWKWARD, C. GOLDIE BOONE, JERRY AMOS, RAFIZ M. SALEEM, KING WEBSTER, JOHN CHANEY, DANIEL H. RAYMOND, REHIM RASHID FARID, JOHN WHITE, HERBERT ANDREW RUCKER, FRED WILKS, WILLIAM GRITE, DAVID LAMBERT, LARRY PALMER, MICHAEL WRIGHT, MILLEGE PRIMUS, JR., DAVID BYNUM, RAUL MONSERRATE, RAYMOND THOMAS, REVEREND MARCUS C. RIGGINS, III, ANTHONY P. FLORA, QUASIM MUHAMMAD, ARTHUR TUCKER, KENDALL COOPER, TIO SOTO, JULIAN MORALES, LOUIS MARTINEZ AND RUBIN ADAMS, RESPONDENTS AND CROSS-APPELLANTS,
WILLIAM H. FAUVER, COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, GARY J. HILTON, ASSISTANT COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, RICHARD SIEDL, DEPUTY COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, SIMEON MOSS, CHAIRMAN BOARD OF TRUSTEES, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, DAVID IRONHORN, CHAIRMAN, ADVISORY COUNSEL ON CORRECTIONS, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, JOHN J. RAFFERTY, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON, RAHWAY, THOMAS JULIAN, DEPUTY CHIEF, NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON, RAHWAY, AND SGT. ROBERT MILLER, APPELLANTS AND CROSS-RESPONDENTS
On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at N.J. Super. (1986).
For affirmance in part and reversal in part -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, Stein O'Hern and Garibaldi. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Stein, J.
This case concerns the emergency power of the Commissioner of Corrections (Commissioner) to supersede departmental standards permitting inmates to be assigned to "full minimum" custody status and the correlative due process rights of inmates adversely affected by the Commissioner's action.
Because of mounting public concern about the security of the minimum camp at the Rahway State Prison, an assistant commissioner of the Department of Corrections (Department) directed the Rahway State Prison superintendent to relocate all inmates with prior homicide convictions from the Rahway Camp, a satellite minimum-security correctional facility located in Woodbridge, to the main prison. Inmates were reclassified either as "full minimum -- inside only," a classification not recognized by departmental standards but intended to transfer the affected inmates to cells within the main prison grounds, or to "gang minimum," a classification permitting inmates housed in the main prison to be assigned to activities or jobs on institutional grounds outside of the main facility, but within the supervisory control of corrections officials. The Appellate Division held that the transfer of inmates from full minimum custody status to the classification "full minimum -- inside only" affected only their housing arrangements and did not encroach upon any protectible liberty interests of the inmates. 219 N.J. Super. 420, 425 (1986). However, the court determined that the reclassification of inmates to "gang minimum" must be for
cause and should be assessed by the Department by means of a fair hearing in which notice, the opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence, findings based on substantial evidence, and a written statement of reasons to inmates adversely affected would be required. Id. at 426.
We granted the Department's petition for certification challenging the the Appellate Division's ruling concerning the reclassification of inmates from "full minimum" to "gang minimum." 105 N.J. 547 (1986). We also granted the inmates' cross-petition contesting the Appellate Division's conclusion that the reclassification of inmates to "full minimum -- inside only" does not violate the prisoners' due process rights. 105 N.J. 548 (1986). We now affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the Appellate Division.
Plaintiffs are forty-five inmates at Rahway State Prison who prior to September 1984, had been assigned full minimum custodial status. The defendants are various officials of the Department of Corrections and Rahway State Prison, as well as the mayors of Woodbridge and Carteret.*fn1 This action was filed in the Chancery Division seeking injunctive and monetary relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn2
The case was transferred to the Appellate Division on motion of the Department of Corrections, which successfully contended that defendants were appealing the final decision of a state administrative agency. On transfer, the Appellate Division
retained jurisdiction of the due process claims asserted in the complaint, severing damage claims for adjudication in the Law Division, and referring all other claims to the Commissioner for further proceedings should the due process issues be determined in favor of the plaintiffs. Accordingly, the sole issue considered by the Appellate Division was the adequacy of the process accorded to plaintiffs in connection with their change in custodial status.*fn3
In 1984, the custodial classification of inmates was governed by Standard 853, entitled "Eligibility Criteria for Reduced Custody Consideration."*fn4 That standard recognized three levels of custody, the most restrictive being maximum custody, which contemplates housing of prisoners within the confines of an institution under continuous supervision. The second level, referred to as "gang minimum" or "in-and-out," authorizes assignment "to activities or jobs which routinely require [movement] outside the security of the institution, on institutional grounds, and within eyesight of a correction officer, civilian instructor or other employee * * *." Full minimum status permits an inmate to 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 minimum security trailer unit, or (3) both (1) and (2)."
Standard 853 also sets forth eligibility criteria to determine when inmates become eligible for a custody status less restrictive than maximum custody. Before qualifying for reduced custody status, each inmate must serve a specified number of
years in maximum custody. This eligibility period is based on the length of the inmate's overall sentence and the length, if any, of the inmate's parole ineligibility term. Certain inmates, however, are ineligible for custody status less restrictive than maximum custody. Included in this category are inmates serving a sentence for a sexual offense, arson, escape, or attempted escape, who have previously been convicted as an adult for the same offense. Standard 853 does not preclude inmates with homicide convictions from being eligible for a less-restrictive custodial status.
Standard 853 authorizes the establishment of classification committees in each institution, vesting in them the sole authority to reduce or increase an inmate's custody status. Specifically, the standard provides:
Reductions in inmates' custody levels shall be made by the Institutional Classification Committee. In an emergency situation, or when additional information is received which negatively affects an inmate's suitability to remain in reduced custody, (i.e., Parole Board decisions, escape plans, etc.) the inmate's custody level can be increased, temporarily, by order of the Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent or Director of Custody Operations. However, such changes must be reviewed and approved by the Institution Classification Committee at its next regularly scheduled meeting.
The Commissioner's action was precipitated by the escape of two inmates from the minimum security Rahway Camp in August and September 1984. The escapes prompted vigorous protests from Carteret and Woodbridge, municipalities located in the vicinity of the prison. The Carteret Municipal Council demanded the resignation of the prison superintendent, and the Mayor of Woodbridge instituted legal proceedings intended to cause the closing of the Rahway Camp. The safety concerns expressed by the municipal officials were widely reported in the media.
Responding to the public's increasing criticism about escapees from the Rahway Camp, Assistant Commissioner Hilton in September 1984 directed the Superintendent of Rahway State Prison to relocate all inmates with histories of homicide ...
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