On appeal from a Final Decision of the Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted September 18, 2007
Before Judges Skillman and Yannotti.
Eru Wakine Pryor (Pryor), an inmate in the State's correctional system, appeals from a final determination of the Department of Corrections (Department) dated July 24, 2006. The Department found that Pryor violated a condition of a community release program and imposed disciplinary sanctions. We affirm.
In July 2006, Pryor was housed at Kintock, a halfway house on Fenwick Street in Newark. Pryor was serving sentences imposed as a result of his conviction on various charges, including distribution of a controlled dangerous substance on or near school property. On July 18, 2006, Pryor was granted a furlough day so that he could visit a residence on Hamilton Street in East Orange, New Jersey. According to the form approving the furlough request, Pryor's furlough was to begin at 8:00 a.m. and the estimated time of his return to the halfway house was 10:00 p.m. on the same day. Kintock's "sign in and out sheet" states that Pryor left the halfway house at 8:00 a.m.
At approximately 3:20 p.m., S.G., the mother of Pryor's three-year old daughter, phoned the halfway house and reported to Manager Ed Crawford (Crawford) that Pryor assaulted her at the furlough site. The East Orange police were contacted at about 4:10 p.m. but as of that time, the police had not received a report of an assault at the furlough site. At 4:15 p.m., Resident Supervisor Welch phoned the furlough site and told Pryor to return to the halfway house immediately.
Pryor called Kintock at 5:28 p.m. and spoke with Crawford. Pryor wanted to know why he was ordered back to the halfway house. Crawford told Pryor to return at once. At 5:50 p.m., Crawford called the furlough site. Pryor got on the phone and again asked why he was being ordered to return. Crawford told Pryor to return and they would talk about it when he got back. Crawford instructed Pryor to return by 7:50 p.m. The East Orange police informed Kintock at 6:30 p.m. that S.G. had filed a complaint accusing Pryor of assault. The police went to the furlough site to arrest Pryor but he was not there. According to Kintock's "sign in and out sheet," Pryor returned to the halfway house at 8:15 p.m.
Pryor was charged with escape, which is a prohibited act under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). The Department investigated the charge. Pryor pled not guilty, but the charge was found to have merit and was referred for a hearing. According to the adjudication form, the hearing officer considered, among other evidence, the escape report, incident reports, and Kintock's records including the "sign in and out sheet." Pryor presented no witnesses, and declined the offer to confront/cross-examine the adverse witnesses. Pryor asserted that he returned to the halfway house at 7:30 p.m.
The hearing officer downgraded the charge to violating a condition of a community release program, which also is a prohibited act under N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). The hearing officer found that the charge had been proven. The hearing officer rejected Pryor's assertion that he returned to the halfway house at 7:30 p.m., noting that Kintock's "sign in and out sheet" indicated that he did not return until 8:15 p.m. The hearing officer imposed the following sanctions: fifteen days of detention, ninety days of administrative segregation, sixty days of lost commutation time, and fifteen days of lost recreational privileges.
Pryor filed an administrative appeal. Administrator Joseph C. Rizzo upheld the hearing officer's findings but modified the sanctions by reducing the detention to ten days, and suspending the administrative segregation on the condition that Pryor remain charge-free for sixty days. This appeal followed.
"In light of the executive function of administrative agencies, judicial capacity to review administrative actions is severely limited." George Harms Constr. Co. v. N.J. Turnpike Auth., 137 N.J. 8, 27 (1994). When reviewing a determination of the Department in a matter involving prisoner discipline, we consider whether there is substantial evidence that the inmate committed the prohibited act and whether, in making its decision, the Department followed the regulations adopted to afford inmates procedural due process. McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 194-95 (1995); Jacobs v. Stephens, 139 N.J. 212, 220-222 (1995).
Pryor argues that there is insufficient evidence to support the Department's finding of guilt. We disagree. We are satisfied that the record provides ample factual support for the hearing officer's finding that Pryor violated a condition of the community release program. The record shows that Pryor was ordered at 4:15 p.m. to return to the halfway house immediately. At 5:50 p.m., Crawford spoke to Pryor and ordered him to return no later than 7:50 p.m. ...