On appeal from a final agency decision by the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: RODRÍGUEZ, A. A., P.J.A.D.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 22, 2008
Before Judges Stern, Rodríguez and Payne.
James Williamson, an inmate serving a three-year term at Bayside State Prison, appeals from a final agency decision by the Department of Corrections (DOC), imposing disciplinary sanctions based on a finding that he committed prohibited act *.101, escape, N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a). We reverse the finding of guilt.
On February 6, 2008, Williamson was housed at Hope Hall, a halfway house in Camden. That day, he went to a job interview as a condition of his incarceration. Williamson was required to return to Hope Hall by 2:00 p.m. At 10:02 a.m., Williamson called Hope Hall and informed a staff member the bus had dropped him off at the wrong job site for the interview.
Later, Williamson again contacted Hope Hall to request an extension of the time for his return, which was denied. He says the counselor he spoke with told him to complete the job application and interview and to bring receipts from the bus to establish when he got on the bus. Williamson says the counselor told him if he did this "he would be covered." Williamson continued on the job interview. He phoned Hope Hall at 1:52 p.m. to again request an extension and inform them he was "on his way back."
Shortly after 2:00 p.m., the local police, hospitals and the job site were contacted in order to find Williamson. At 2:50 p.m., a Hope Hall employee determined that Williamson had filled out an application at the job site, but that he "had left an hour ago." At 2:52 p.m., an escape report was filed by Hope Hall. At 3:45 p.m., Williamson returned to Hope Hall.
Williamson was charged with violation *.101. At the hearing, Williamson entered a not guilty plea and requested the assistance of a counsel substitute. This request was granted. The Hearing Officer reviewed the Disciplinary and Escape Reports, the Resident Log and other logs, which indicated that officers contacted the police, hospitals and the prospective employer trying to locate Williamson. The reports also showed that Williamson was denied his request to delay his return to Hope Hall. The hearing officer found that the "state reports they went to the inmate's job interview worksite to check on him, he was not there. They did not know where he was." The Hearing Officer found no reason to discredit the State's report and upheld the charge against Williamson. The Hearing Officer recommended a sanction of referral to the classification committee for status review.*fn1
Williamson appealed the decision administratively. The Associate Administrator upheld the guilty finding and the imposition of sanctions.
Williamson appeals to us, contending:
THE [DOC] ABUSED ITS DISCRETION BY IMPROPERLY FINDING DEFENDANT GUILTY OF HIS ...