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Garryl Willis v. New Jersey Department of Corrections


January 7, 2013


On appeal from the New Jersey Department of Corrections.

Per curiam.


Submitted December 12, 2012

Before Judges Fuentes and Hayden.

Appellant Garryl Willis is currently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison (NJSP). He is serving a fifty-year term for murder in the State of Illinois. He appeals from a final determination of the Department of Corrections (DOC) issued October 24, 2011, upholding his placement in the Management Control Unit (MCU). We affirm.

The MCU is a "close custody unit" in the correctional facility. N.J.A.C. 10A:5-1.3. An inmate may be assigned to the MCU if the Management Control Unit Review Committee (Committee) finds that the inmate poses a substantial threat to the safety of others, of damage or destruction of property, or of interrupting the operation of the correctional facility. N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.5(a). A number of criteria are considered when making this determination, including the inmate's disciplinary records, past criminal offenses, number and location of past institutionalizations, reports from professional staff, reports indicating present involvement in criminal activity in the community or in the correctional facility, evidence of unwillingness to follow rules and obey orders, inability to maintain a satisfactory work record, and evidence of unwillingness to be housed with other inmates in a nondisruptive and nondestructive manner. N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.4. As we have previously observed:

MCU confinement for inmates is not imposed as punishment but is used to prevent a potentially dangerous situation within the prison. It is a housing assignment within NJSP where inmates are housed after a determination by the Special Classification Committee-MCU [] that the inmate poses a substantial threat to the safety of others, of damage to or destruction of property or, of interrupting the operation of a State correctional facility. [Taylor v. Beyer, 265 N.J. Super. 345, 346-47 (App. Div. 1993) (citing N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.5(a)).]

The DOC regulations provide an inmate with the opportunity to challenge an MCU housing designation. See N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.7. Additionally, periodic reviews provide an inmate the opportunity to demonstrate that he no longer requires the MCU placement. N.J.A.C. 10A:5-2.11.

In 2007, Willis was convicted in the State of Illinois of two counts of murder. According to the records transmitted by the Illinois prison authority, prior to his transfer to New Jersey on July 21, 2011, Willis incurred numerous infractions and disciplinary charges while incarcerated, having been found guilty of charges of intimidation, impairment of surveillance, insolence, disobeying a direct order, unauthorized movement, contraband property and sexual misconduct. The precipitating infraction for the interstate transfer involved a charge of "violent assault on any person" for assaulting a corrections officer and fracturing his jaw. Willis also admitted to past affiliation with a street gang associated with the "Crips", which has been declared a Security Threat Group. See N.J.A.C. 10A:3-11.2.

The NJSP preliminarily placed Willis in the MCU on August 11, 2011, as he appeared to pose a threat to the safety and security of the prison. The Committee held a hearing on August 25, 2011 at which Willis was provided with assistance of a counsel substitute. His request for an adjournment until his personal property was supplied by the Illinois prison authorities was denied. Willis provided a written statement that the charges against him in Illinois prison were false or exaggerated, that he was not provided with due process hearings when he was adjudicated guilty of them, and that his juvenile record was not extensive when he was arrested on the present offense at the age of sixteen. He also pointed out that he did not have a present membership in a gang, only a past membership, and he had renounced gang activities since 2008. The Committee determined, based upon his past gang affiliation, his recent violent assault on a prison guard, and his prison disciplinary record, that he posed a threat to the safety and security of the correctional facility if housed in the general prison population.

Willis appealed the Committee's decision, which was upheld by the Administrator on October 24, 2011. This appeal followed.

Willis argues that his placement in MCU was arbitrary and capricious because he did not have an adequate opportunity to defend himself against the allegations in his prison record. He contends that a significant portion of the charges against him were false, such as the false accusation that he assaulted a correction officer, and argues that his past gang affiliation did not make him a threat.

Our role in reviewing an agency decision is limited. In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011) (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579 (1980)). Our function is to determine whether the administrative action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable, or not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole. Ramirez v. Dep't of Corr., 382 N.J. Super. 18, 23 (App. Div. 2005) (citation omitted). Substantial evidence means "such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." In re Pub. Serv. Elec. & Gas Co., 35 N.J. 358, 376 (1961) (citations omitted). "The burden of demonstrating that the agency's action was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable rests upon the [party] challenging the administrative action." In re Arenas, 385 N.J. Super. 440, 443-44 (App. Div.) (citations omitted), certif. denied, 188 N.J. 219 (2006).

Applying these standards, we discern no reason to disturb the DOC's decision. We conclude that there is substantial credible evidence in the record to support the agency's decision and we discern no basis on which to reach a contrary conclusion. The Committee followed the requisite procedures in conducting the hearing. Further, the Committee reasonably based its decision on all the evidence in his record, including his entire Illinois prison disciplinary record, which contained findings that Willis had difficulty acting appropriately in the general prison population and the finding that he attacked and seriously injured a corrections officer. In light of the evidence in the record, we defer to the Committee's determination that Willis required isolation from the general prison population because he posed a security threat to the facility. "Prisons are dangerous places" and prison administrators must be given latitude to control their "volatile environment." Blyther v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 322 N.J. Super. 56, 65 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 162 N.J. 196 (1999).



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