On appeal from a Final Decision of the New Jersey Department of Corrections.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted: January 5, 2011 - Decided: Before Judges Axelrad and Lihotz.
Appellant Derick LeCompte, a New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) inmate, is serving a life sentence with a thirty-year parole disqualifier for murder and first-degree robbery. An investigation in September 2006 revealed that several inmates at the prison, including appellant, created a non-profit, faith- based corporation, pursuant to which donations were solicited to be sent to a post office box. The entity was created without obtaining prior approval. The inmates were assisted by other individuals who were not confined, including Denise La Plante, appellant's mother and emergency contact. A search of appellant's cell revealed documents signed by appellant as secretary or Board member and his mother as the corporation's registered agent.
As a result of the investigation, appellant was charged with disciplinary infraction *.704, perpetrating a fraud or escape plot through the mail, N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(a), for which he was found guilty. Appellant appealed from the final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC), which we affirmed in an unpublished opinion. LeCompte v. N.J. Dep't of Corrs., No. A-1362-06T1 (App Div. Feb. 5, 2008).
On an unspecified date in 2006, appellant and La Plante were informed by Michelle Ricci, Associate Administrator of the DOC, that La Plante was "temporarily banned from participating in the visit program" at the prison. Slightly more than a year later, appellant applied to have his mother's privileges reinstated. Ricci responded by letter of November 29, 2007, denying the requested reinstatement. The letter summarily stated that La Plante's visitation privileges had been "permanently terminated" because she had refused to cooperate with a Special Investigation Division (SID) inquiry. Appellant sought reconsideration of this decision. By letter of December 14, 2007, Assistant Superintendent Charles Warren, Jr., denied appellant's application, stating the restriction resulted from appellant's mother's involvement in the fraud. The letter concluded that the matter of visitation would "not be revisited and is considered closed."
Appellant filed an appeal with us, A-5204-07T3, and by order of July 14, 2009, we granted the DOC's motion for remand and did not retain jurisdiction. The DOC had requested the remand to clarify its decision and reconsider both the denial of the visit request and the circumstances under which visits may be restored. See N.J.A.C. 10A:18-6.20 (setting forth administrative procedure for inmate to request reinstatement of contact visit privileges after 365 days from the date of imposition of the sanction). The DOC represented the record was unclear as to the circumstances under which La Plante would be permitted to resume visits with appellant. It was also concerned the administrative decisions could have given the misleading impression that the DOC had permanently foreclosed the possibility of reinstatement of visits. The record does not reflect the action, if any, taken by the DOC on remand.
Appellant sent a letter to Ricci on September 30, 2009, noting he had submitted several requests to her office inquiring about the status of the remand and formally requesting resumption of contact visits or, at a minimum, window visits, with his mother. The DOC's response was a November 20, 2009 letter perfunctorily denying appellant's request at that time because of "the continued ongoing investigation being conducted by the NJSP . . . SID." The letter further stated that La Plante was part of the continued investigation and referred appellant to SID for further assistance with the matter.
Appellant responded with a November 23, 2009 letter, stating the visit ban was from September 2006 and he had been informed the investigation had been concluded years ago. Appellant noted his mother had been banned from contact and window visits permanently since 2006, which he asserted was illegal. He further noted the DOC only answered his request regarding contact visits and did not respond to his request for resumption of window visits.
Appellant filed the present appeal, expressing frustration with the lack of response to his questions or any detailed explanation that the DOC reviewed the matter or performed any analysis of the regulations pertaining to the termination of contact visits. See N.J.A.C. 10A:18-6.19(a), (b); N.J.A.C. 10A:4-5.1(c). Appellant further contended the Administrator overstepped her authority and violated N.J.A.C. 10A:4-5.1(g)(7), restricting loss of contact visit privileges to one year. In his brief, appellant contended his mother did not fit any of the categories warranting suspension or termination of visit privileges, asserted the DOC could not prove La Plante had any involvement with the fraudulent activities, and further argued the DOC was violating his rights to have visits with his relative. He also pointed out the inconsistencies in the various responses by the DOC to his numerous requests for reinstatement of privileges.
The DOC's brief on appeal provides no insight into what, if anything, transpired following our remand order or any indication that appellant was given an opportunity for a meaningful review of his request for resumption of either or both window and contact visits with his mother. The brief simply references the DOC's November 20, 2009 denial letter. Thus it appears no detailed explanation has been provided by the DOC in response to the contentions, inquiries, and requests made in appellant's November 23, 2009 letter.
Accordingly, we remand this matter to the DOC for further proceedings consistent with this opinion to be conducted within thirty days, after which the DOC shall provide detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its decision. The DOC should also consider the fact that another year has passed, and it is now over four years that appellant has been denied any type of visit with his mother. We retain jurisdiction.
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