On appeal from a Final Agency Decision of the Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lisa and Reisner.
Corinne Connolly, an inmate at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility, appeals from a January 11, 2008 final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC), finding that she committed prohibited act *.011, possessing or exhibiting materials related to a security threat group (STG). See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1 (prohibiting possession of STG materials). The inmate was sanctioned with 10 days of detention, 60 days of administrative segregation which penalty was suspended, and 120 days loss of commutation time. We affirm.
Connolly is serving a ten-year sentence for carjacking and burglary. On December 31, 2007, corrections officers seized from Connolly's cell five drawings which they contended contained symbols associated with an STG known as the Aryan Brotherhood. The drawings include pictures of viking figures, a flaming skull surrounded by the words "Irish Pride," a celtic cross, and a depiction of an arm tattooed with "F.T.W." and holding a globe of the world in its fist.
The drawings were sent to the agency's Special Investigations Division for review by an officer with expert credentials in identifying STG materials. See N.J.A.C. 10A:5-6.4(a). According to the officer's report, Connolly was "an identified member of the East Coast Aryan Brotherhood." The report concluded that four of the five drawings were "typical of Aryan members['] use of [Odinic] religious symbolism in an attempt to mask underlying meaning relating to hate literature." Specifically, the report indicated that the viking drawing included rune symbols, which were "a know[n] choice of writing amongst Aryan members." The "Irish Pride" drawing was "symbolic of the pride Aryan members have with their Irish [ancestry.]" The celtic cross drawing contained a "Shield Knot . . . formed by intersecting Swastikas; a common hate symbol used by Aryans." The expert also opined that the "hand holding a globe with the letters 'F.T.W.'" was also an Aryan Brotherhood sign. He explained that "F.T.W" was shorthand for "Fuck The World," a slogan used by the Aryan Brotherhood.
At her administrative hearing, Connolly declined the opportunity to confront adverse witnesses. She claimed that she did not belong to the Aryan Brotherhood, that none of the materials bore any relationship to the Aryan Brotherhood, and that most of the materials were associated with her religion of Odinism. In a written statement submitted in advance of the hearing, she contended that "F.T.W." was merely "a rebellious slogan." The hearing officer credited the evidence presented by the prosecution and did not credit the inmate's testimony.
Connolly appealed the adjudication to the prison administrator. The administrator upheld the adjudication, but reduced the administrative segregation from 120 days to 60 days suspended. This appeal followed.
On September 12, 2008, we granted the agency's motion for a temporary remand to permit the agency to consider a psychological evaluation of the inmate, as it might bear upon her level of responsibility for her actions and the possible impact of placement in administrative segregation. The agency's consideration of this report did not change its adjudication on the merits of the charge, and the supplemental psychological report is not at issue on this appeal. After a rehearing which included consideration of the psychological report, the agency issued a supplemental decision dated November 25, 2008, reaffirming its conclusion that Connolly possessed STG materials.
In the November 25, 2008 rehearing decision, the hearing officer again credited the security expert's report. He further noted that the inmate's claim that she did not understand the proceedings was not credible in view of her intelligence and relatively high level of education. The hearing officer rejected the inmate's claim that the materials were religious in nature as opposed to STG-related, and noted he was "not aware of any religion that considers the phrase F.T.W. as one of their creeds."
On this appeal, Connolly raises the ...