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Wilson v. New Jersey Department of Corrections


September 28, 2007


On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted September 11, 2007

Before Judges Wefing and Parker.

Jeffrey Wilson, an inmate in the custody of the Department of Corrections, appeals from a final agency decision denying him the return of a remote control device used in connection with an Aiwa stereo system. After reviewing the record in light of the contentions advanced on appeal, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

Wilson is serving a thirty-nine-year sentence for kidnapping and various other offenses. According to the records supplied to us by the Department, he will first become eligible for parole in November 2008 and will have served his maximum term by December 8, 2010.

Wilson was incarcerated originally at East Jersey State Prison. While there he obtained an Aiwa stereo, which included a radio, speakers and a remote control device to operate the system. In 1999 Wilson was transferred to Riverfront State Prison. He has supplied to us an "Appliance Inspection Form" from Riverfront dated December 20, 1999, listing his possession of Aiwa SN# S02UG7170211, and noting that it was operational.

In April 2006 Wilson was charged with a disciplinary infraction, .709, failure to comply with a written rule or regulation of the correctional facility, and his stereo system was seized. According to the disciplinary report, the institutional property identification had been "removed but taped on" the item. A hearing was held at which Wilson was found not guilty because there was no proof that he had intentionally committed a prohibited act.

Thereafter, Wilson's stereo system was returned to him, but without the remote control device. On the form completed when the system was returned to him was written, "No Remote Allowed." Wilson appealed, noting "features cannot be used without remote." His appeal was denied with the statement, "This item is not permitted as indicated and pursuant to policy and procedures." His appeal to this court followed.

We acknowledge the limited scope of our review in a matter such as this. A final decision of an administrative body should not be disturbed on appeal unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Karins v. City of Atlantic City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1988). An appellate court should undertake a "careful and principled consideration of the agency record and findings." Riverside Gen. Hosp. v. N.J. Hosp. Rate Setting Comm'n, 98 N.J. 458, 468 (1985). The agency's findings should be affirmed if they "could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole . . . with due regard also to the agency's expertise." Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (citations omitted). Our review, however, must be a principled one, and not merely perfunctory. DeCamp v. Dep't of Corrections, 386 N.J. Super. 631, 636 (App. Div. 2006).

In support of the decision not to return the remote, the Department relies upon the "Personal Property" section of the Riverfront State Prison Inmate Handbook. The Department stresses that this section does not list remote control devices as permissible items. This section does include the following as permissible items:

7. Television -- Limit one (1). Must be equipped with headset or earphone capabilities. TV screen can be no larger than thirteen (13) inches, and must come from canteen no alarms.

8. Radio and Cassette -- Limit one (1) each. Must be equipped with a headset or earphones and may be battery operated purchase must be through canteen only.

An inmate must be given fair warning of what is permissible conduct and what is not. Even under our restricted review, we cannot fairly conclude that an inmate reading these descriptions would understand that remote control devices for these items are prohibited.

We recognize that prison management and control involves questions and issues that may not be apparent to a layperson. There may be reasons of safety that would justify fiat prohibition of inmates' possession of such devices. None is apparent from this record, however.

We thus remand this matter to permit the Department to supplement the record with a statement of reasons why Wilson's possession of this remote control device now poses such a hazard that it should be confiscated. The Department shall submit this statement within thirty days.

Remanded; jurisdiction is retained.


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