May 15, 2012
KENWORTH LAURIER, APPELLANT,
NEW JERSEY STATE PAROLE BOARD, RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the New Jersey State Parole Board.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted April 23, 2012
Before Judges Parrillo and Grall.
Appellant Kenworth Laurier appeals from a final decision of the New Jersey State Parole Board (Board) denying his request to enter into a parole contract agreement pursuant to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.67. We affirm.
Appellant was sentenced on November 22, 1991 to a seventy- five year term, with a mandatory-minimum of thirty years, to expire in 2021. He is presently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.
On August 19, 2010, appellant made a formal request to the Board to enter into a parole contract agreement, which, upon successful completion of its terms, would result in a reduction of his primary parole eligibility date (PED). It was appellant's stated goal "to earn enough credits to ensure that [he is] released when [he has] served [his] mandatory minimum term."
On September 27, 2010, the Director of the Division of Release denied appellant's request because he was ineligible to enter into a parole contract due to his serving a mandatory- minimum sentence. On April 27, 2011, the Board denied appellant's administrative appeal for the same reason, concluding:
paragraph (b) of N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.52 provides that a parole eligibility date may not be set below the primary parole eligibility date without the consent of the sentencing court and in no case shall a parole eligibility date be set below any judicial or statutory mandatory-minimum term. Based on the aforementioned statutory provision, it is the Board's position that those inmates serving a judicially or statutorily imposed mandatory-minimum term and whose primary eligibility date is the expiration date of the judicial or statutory mandatory-minimum term are deemed ineligible to enter a parole contract agreement.
On appeal, appellant argues that under the 2009 amendment to N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.67, effective August 1, 2010, parole contracts are mandatory upon request to allow an inmate to earn credits during service of his mandatory-minimum term in order to obtain a reduction of the future PED that will be established once he has completed serving his mandatory-minimum term. The State counters that the sole purpose of the parole contract agreement is to obtain a reduction in an inmate's primary PED and since appellant's PED is his thirty-year mandatory-minimum term, which cannot be reduced, he is ineligible to enter into a parole contract.
"Contract parole allows for the pre-determination of a release date for an inmate provided the inmate complies with a program of behavioral, educational and rehabilitative goals designed to reduce prison misconduct and enhance the inmate's post[-]release community adjustment." Trantino v. N.J. State Parole Bd., 166 N.J. 113, 208 n.3 (2001) (internal citations omitted.). The purpose of entering into a parole contract is to obtain a reduction of an inmate's primary PED. To this end, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.67(a) provides:
The appropriate board panel and the Department of Corrections or the Juvenile Justice Commission . . . shall enter into formal parole contract agreements with officials of the board, officials of the Department of Corrections or the Juvenile Justice Commission and individual parolees or inmates reduced to writing and signed by all parties, which parole contract agreements stipulate individual programs of education, training, or other activity which shall result in a specified reduction of the parolee's parole term pursuant to . . . 30:4-123.66 . . . or the inmate's primary parole eligibility date pursuant to . . . 30:4-123.52 . . ., upon such successful completion of the program.
[(emphasis added).] However, N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.67(a) is qualified by N.J.S.A. 30:4- 123.52, which explicitly states that in no case shall a parole eligibility date be set below any judicial or statutory minimum term:
If the appropriate board panel determines that an adult inmate has made exceptional progress, as evidenced by documented participation and progress in institutional or community educational, training or other programs, the inmate's parole eligibility date may be decreased, except that no parole eligibility date shall be set below the primary parole eligibility date without the consent of the sentencing court, which need not conduct a hearing and in no case shall a parole eligibility date be set below any judicial or statutory mandatory minimum term, including any parole eligibility date set pursuant to section 23 of this act.
[N.J.S.A. 30:4-123.52(b) (emphasis added).]
The Board interpreted the plain terms of the aforecited provisions as rendering appellant ineligible to enter into a parole contract while he is serving his mandatory-minimum term because his PED cannot be set sooner than the expiration of that term. We find the Board's interpretation a permissible construction of the statute it is charged with enforcing to require our substantial deference. TAC Assocs. v. N.J. Dep't of Envtl. Prot., 202 N.J. 533, 541-42 (2010).
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