ALONZO JENKINS, Appellant, v. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.
DOCKET NO. A–4452–11T2
-- November 01, 2013
Alonzo Jenkins, appellant pro se.John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondent (Lewis A. Scheindlin, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Marvin L. Freeman, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Appellant Alonzo Jenkins appealed from the March 28, 2012 final decision of the Department of Corrections (DOC) denying his request for a rule exemption to allow him to gain full minimum custody 1 status. We remanded to allow the DOC to explain its reasons for the denial. Jenkins v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., Docket No. A–4452–11T24452–11 (App.Div. July 1, 2013). After reviewing the DOC's reasons for the denial of the exemption and Jenkins' response, we affirm.
Jenkins is serving a lengthy sentence for the crime of robbery, N.J.S.A. 2C:15–1. He was previously convicted of arson in 1985. On June 30, 2011, Jenkins submitted a “Request for Rule Exemption” (RRE) form seeking to be afforded full minimum custody in spite of his prior arson conviction, which would ordinarily prevent him from achieving such status. N.J.A.C. 10A:9–4.8(d). The March 28, 2012 DOC denial read, “I/M REQ FOR A RUL[E] EXEM[PT]ION DENIED CURRENT STATUS APPROPRIATE[.]” We remanded for the purpose of allowing the DOC to amplify its reasons for denying an exemption.
The DOC supplied this additional reasoning in an August 9, 2013 letter to the court:
The ICC [ (Institutional Classification Committee) ] reviewed Inmate Jenkins' Criminal History which indicated he had a previous adult conviction for Arson in 1985, for which he was sentenced to eight (8) years and was paroled in 1995. It should be noted, that he violated the conditions of his Parole. These facts prompted the ICC's recommendation for the disapproval of said Rule Exemption. The facts as they pertain to Alonzo Jenkins were carefully considered by the ICC. The paramount aspect considered by the ICC was the protection of the pub[l]ic at large while also providing proper care, custody and protection of Inmate Jenkins. A review of Inmate Jenkins' institutional disciplinary history provided indicators which prompted the Committee to unanimously vote against the requested Rule Exemption. Accordingly, Inmate Alonzo Jenkins' request for a Rule Exemption for Full Minimum custody status was denied.
Jenkins responded, alleging he received an “extended term sentence of six to thirteen years[,]” not eight years, on the arson conviction. He stated he was released on parole on June 14, 1994, was rearrested for a parole violation, but found not guilty after a hearing and released again on parole on June 15, 1995. He also alleges that his most recent institutional infraction was January 23, 2001. The DOC did not reply to this response, nor did the Attorney General submit any argument as to why the reasons set forth by the DOC were sufficient or accurate.
As we noted in our prior opinion, Jenkins, supra, slip op. at 2–3, our scope of review is limited. In re Stallworth, 208 N.J. 182, 194 (2011); Moore v. N.J. Dep't of Corr., 335 N.J.Super. 103, 110 (App.Div.2000). “In order to reverse an agency's judgment, an appellate court must find the agency's decision to be ‘arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable, or [ ] not supported by substantial credible evidence in the record as a whole.’ ” Stallworth, supra, 208 N.J. at 194 (quoting Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579–80 (1980)).
As we also indicated in our prior opinion, Jenkins sought an exemption pursuant to the Administrative Code provision that states:
The Commissioner may exempt a correctional facility ․ from adherence to a rule or may relax certain requirements of a rule for good cause shown in a particular situation or in instances when strict compliance with a rule or all of its requirements would result in:
1. An undue hardship, unfairness or injustice;
2. An inability to meet a therapeutic, rehabilitative or medical need;
3. A security risk or imminent peril to the overall management, safe or orderly operation of a correctional facility, community program or operational unit;
4. An inability to utilize existing technology or apply technological innovations in order to meet penological objectives;
5. An inability to meet an operational need to ensure management effectiveness and efficiency; or
6. An inability to reasonably meet a time period requirement.
Thus, the inmate bears the burden of demonstrating that an exemption is warranted. Even if we assume that Jenkins was not found guilty of a parole violation in connection with his arson sentence, because Jenkins acknowledges he has been involved in at least one institutional infraction in 2001, we do not find that the DOC was arbitrary, capricious or unreasonable in finding that Jenkins did not demonstrate that he should be granted an exemption to the prohibition against full minimum status for an inmate previously convicted of arson. We accept that Jenkins' institutional record did not support such an exemption. The record, though sparse, supports the DOC denial in light of the burden placed on the inmate to demonstrate that an exemption is appropriate.
1. FN1. The DOC has six categories of custody status: close custody, maximum custody, medium custody, gang minimum custody, full minimum custody, and community custody. N.J.A.C. 10A:9–4.3(a–f).