CRAIG ARNO, Appellant, v. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.
DOCKET NO. A–2033–11T4
-- August 30, 2013
Craig Arno, appellant pro se.Jeffrey S. Chiesa, Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Marvin L. Freeman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Craig Arno is an inmate currently incarcerated at the New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) in Trenton. He appeals two final administrative agency decisions of the New Jersey Department of Corrections (DOC). The first decision, rendered October 25, 2011, adjudicated him guilty of disciplinary infraction *.102, attempting or planning escape; *.202, possession or introduction of a weapon; and *.213, mutilating or altering clothing issued by the government. The second decision, rendered October 27, 2011, found him guilty of a second possession or introduction of a weapon infraction.
The facts upon which the adjudications were reached occurred on October 20, 2011. At the time, Arno was awaiting disposition of pending criminal charges for murder, aggravated assault, robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, aggravated arson, terroristic threats, fabrication of evidence and weapons offenses. He was being housed at NJSP as a high risk detainee. Correctional staff searched Arno's cell and discovered that the wall area around a vent had been dug out. The senior correction officer (SCO) investigating the incident also found an altered nail clipper which, in its altered state, resembled a flathead screwdriver. Correctional staff determined that the altered nail clipper fit the security screws in Arno's cell. Additionally, during the search of Arno's property, staff recovered one State-owned mutilated sheet, one State-owned mutilated tee shirt, and one altered State-owned shirt.
Four days later, while a maintenance crew was repairing the wall in Arno's cell, SCO Wickham found a piece of metal wrapped in aluminum foil. One of the corners of the metal had been shaped into a point, facilitating its use as a weapon.
Once Arno was served with the charges, he requested and received the assistance of counsel substitute. He was also afforded the opportunity to produce witnesses but elected not to do so. He denied the allegations contained in the charges.
Based upon the investigative reports, photos of evidence, as well the hearing officer's inspection of Arno's cell, the hearing officer found sufficient evidence to support the charges. For the *.102 charge, Arno was referred to the Close Custody Unit, received fifteen days detention, a loss of recreational privileges for thirty days, and a 365–day loss of commutation time. However, as to the latter discipline, the DOC restored all commutation time taken prior to Arno's sentencing date of May 24, 2012. For the first *.202 charge, Arno received fifteen days detention, thirty days loss of recreation privileges, 365 days administrative segregation, and another 365 days loss of commutation time. For the second *.202 charge, he was referred to the Close Custody Unit and sanctioned 180 days of administrative segregation. He also received a loss of his recreational privileges for thirty days, as well as a 180–day loss of commutation time. Finally, for the *.213 charge, Arno received a third referral to the Close Custody Unit and a hold on his account for reimbursement of expenses.
Arno administratively appealed the sanctions imposed on the following infractions: (1) *.102, attempting or planning escape; (2) *.202, possession or introduction of a weapon, namely, the altered nail clippers; (3) *.202, possession or introduction of a weapon, namely, metal altered into a point, which could be used as a weapon; and (4) *.213, mutilating or altering clothing issued by the government. He requested leniency. He noted that he was not a State-sentenced inmate and stated: “I am a[C]ounty inmate. The seriousness of this incident was overstated and harmful to me. In view of the above I would request a reduction of the sanction.”
Arno's appeal was considered by Assistant Superintendent William Anderson. He upheld the hearing officer's decision and concluded:
A review of the charge, investigation and its adjudication revealed that 10A and all of the safeguards therein were adhered to. Your explanation failed to disclose any valid reason for the extension of leniency or define the standards which [were] violated[. F]or this reason I find the decision of the [h]earing [o]fficer is appropriate and shall be upheld.
Arno was subsequently sentenced on May 24, 2012, to an aggregate custodial sentence of 120 years with a ten-year minimum period of parole ineligibility. The present appeal followed.
On appeal, Arno contends that “the imposition of two and [one-half] years of administrative segregation to an un-sentenced [C]ounty inmate without proper notice was in violation of Title 30.” We have considered Arno's claims in light of the record and applicable legal principles and conclude his argument is without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11–3(e)(1)(D)–(E). We add the following brief comments.
An appellate court should not overturn a final administrative decision unless it is arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable. Karins v. City of Atl. City, 152 N.J. 532, 540 (1998). The agency's findings should be affirmed if they “could reasonably have been reached on sufficient credible evidence present in the record, considering the proofs as a whole ․ with due regard also to the agency's expertise.” Close v. Kordulak Bros., 44 N.J. 589, 599 (1965) (internal citations and quotations omitted). It is particularly appropriate that we recognize such expertise when dealing with matters of prison administration. Pryor v. Dep't of Corr., 395 N.J.Super. 471, 476–77 (App.Div.2007).
We also note the settled law that inmate disciplinary appeals are not part of the criminal justice system and that inmates are not afforded the panoply of procedural rights afforded to an individual defending against a criminal charge. In Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 525–30 (1975), the Supreme Court summarized the rights available to an inmate charged with a disciplinary infraction. These include receiving written notice of the charges at least twenty-four hours in advance of the hearing, an impartial tribunal to decide the charges, a limited right to call witnesses and present documentary evidence, a limited right of confrontation and cross-examination, a written decision noting the reasons for the decision and the evidence relied upon, and, when appropriate, the assistance of counsel substitute.
The record here reveals that Arno received all of these rights. The hearings thus comported with the requirements of procedural due process for inmate disciplinary matters.
Turning to the sole point raised in this appeal, as noted earlier, DOC restored all of Arno's commutation time he lost prior to his sentencing on the underlying criminal charges.
Second, Arno's reliance upon N.J.S.A. 30:8–57 as a basis to reverse the final agency decision is misplaced. This statute addresses restrictions the DOC Commissioner may impose upon County facilities for admission of new inmates where it has been determined that the County facility “is in willful and continuous disregard of the minimum standards for such facilities promulgated by [DOC.]” As DOC contends, nothing in the regulations governing the discipline of inmates distinguishes between those inmates being confined as State inmates from those being housed as County inmates.