WALIK GRIGGS, Appellant, v. NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.
Walik Griggs, now an inmate at Bayside State Prison, was housed in New Jersey State Prison on October 11, 2012, when during a routine search, a manuscript was discovered in his cell. Officer Zetty 1 read the document and found one page in which Griggs described the beginning of gang warfare in the prison system. Because the officer perceived this to be material related to a security threat group (STG),2 he referred the matter for further investigation to Sergeant Spires.3 Spires charged defendant with prohibited act *.011, possession or exhibition of anything related to an STG.
Upon receipt of the charge and accompanying reports, the hearing officer forwarded the material to the special investigation division (SID) for purposes of “verification.” The SID confirmed that the material related to the following STGs: Bloods, Latin Kings, and Five Percenters or “Godbodies”; and that confiscation of the material was therefore appropriate.
The relevant page from Griggs' manuscript reads:
Ganxta, Poppy, and Wall St. all walked the track of High Point Camp. Politician, and exchanging get rich schemez for the near future. All three individuals were less than ninety day'z to being release and for the last two yrs. they built a bond and became inseperable. It was viewed by onlookerz as a plot to unify the ongoing beef btween the Latino's & Black's, that began taking place throughout New Jersey's Department of Corrections. Unbeknowest to the masses it was about that money ․
Around the middle of “95” or the beginning of “96” Latino's in New Jersey State Prison banned together, preferbly Puerto Ricans, and introduced Jersey to the Almighty Latin King and Queen Nation. They began attacking all Blacks housed in their vicinity to send a message that they were not going to extorted; some felt Blacks made them targets because of their heritage and they became tired adopting the way's of the Latin Kings in New York. They were encourage to solidify the stance of all Latino's and provide security to anyone of Latin descent that was being oppressed.
Once the war popped off between the two ethnic groupz, it trickled thru every state prison, youth correctional facility, and county jail. The Godbodies (Nation of Gods and Earths), United a lot of the Blacks in the prison. As well as the Nation of Islam. Prisons and jails were being locked down due to the ongoing violence that transpired overnight, literally. In New York State Prison, the war between the Latin Kingz & Bloodz was on full blast and the Kingz chose to get to popping before the Fen Bloodz sprinkled thruout Jersey's system, set it first.
“Listen” Poppy said, “I go to the table. Chef'n my own dope, and the profit is more greater as opose to bying bricks (5 bundles in a brick) off a muthaf–––er.”. “Yeah! But the process is tiring and take forever going to the table” Ganxta interjected. “That'z why I f—ks with the coke and crack game; cause the headache in that.” Wall St. stated before passing a Black & Mild to Ganxta.. “the main objective is getting this money. We all respected amonst our people and get․
(Spelling as found in the original).
The record does not indicate the length of the manuscript in question.
Griggs requested and was assigned counsel substitute. He also requested that he be allowed to confront the SID investigator during the courtline hearing. But the request was denied, as the hearing officer considered such a confrontation to be irrelevant to the issues to be decided. Griggs did not deny authorship of the manuscript. His defense then, on his administrative appeal, and now, concerns his position that: the rules contained in the inmate handbook do not adequately warn that writing a book about gangs is prohibited; nothing in his work raised a threat to the security of anyone; and in any event, such a prohibition violates his First Amendment rights.
Griggs also asserts he has never had disciplinary problems while incarcerated and has no contact or involvement with STGs. Upon being found to have violated *.011, he received ten days of detention with credit for time served, 180 days of administrative segregation, and 180 days loss of commutation time. We affirm.
Our role in reviewing the decision of an administrative agency is limited. In re Herrman, 192 N.J. 19, 27 (2007); Brady v. Bd. of Review, 152 N.J. 197, 210 (1997). We do not reverse an administrative agency determination unless we find it was arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable; that it lacked fair support in the evidence; or that the decision violated legislative policies. In re Musick, 143 N.J. 206, 216 (1996); Herrman, supra, 192 N.J. at 27–28.
It is equally well-established that disciplinary proceedings do not entitle a prisoner to the full spectrum of rights due to a defendant in a criminal proceeding. Avant v. Clifford, 67 N.J. 496, 522 (1975). The limited rights to which prisoners are entitled are intended to “strike the proper balance between the security concerns of the prison, the need for swift and fair discipline, and the due process rights of the inmates.” McDonald v. Pinchak, 139 N.J. 188, 202 (1995). In this case, the procedural requirements as defined in Avant were met.
Griggs challenges the notion that the creation of a fictional account, limited to one page in a manuscript, falls sufficiently within the definition of STG material to warrant the adjudication in question. Additionally, Griggs poses the question of whether his creation and possession of the material constitutes a sufficient threat to the security of the prison so as to outweigh his admittedly limited First Amendment privilege as a prisoner. “In a prison context, an inmate does not retain those First Amendment rights that are inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological objectives of the corrections system.” Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners' Labor Union, 433 U.S. 119, 129, 97 S.Ct. 2532, 2540, 53 L. Ed.2d 629, 641 (1977) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Given Griggs' limited First Amendment privileges, we see no error in the agency's decision to punish his possession of material it perceived to be a threat to security.
When reviewing questions regarding an agency's interpretation of its legislative mandate, we do so deferentially. Security is an issue best deferred to the agency charged with keeping the prisons safe. Bowden v. Bayside State Prison, 268 N.J.Super. 301, 305–06 (App.Div.1993), certif. denied, 135 N.J. 469 (1994).
The agency decision was not arbitrary, capricious, or unsupported by the credible evidence in the record. See Henry v. Rahway State Prison, 81 N.J. 571, 579 (1980). So long as substantial evidence exists supporting the agency's conclusion, we defer even if we may have reached a different result. In re Vineland Chem. Co., 243 N.J.Super. 285, 307 (App.Div.), certif. denied, 127 N.J. 323 (1990).
1. FN1. The record does not include Officer Zetty's full name.
2. FN2. A security threat group was previously defined in N.J.A.C. 10A:5–1.3 as:a group of inmates possessing common characteristics, interests and goals that serve to distinguish the ․ group members from other inmate groups or inmates and which, as a discrete entity, poses a threat to the safety of the staff, other inmates, the community, or causes damage to or destruction of property, or interrupts the safe, secure and orderly operation of the correctional facility(ies).However, 43 N.J.R. 1562(a) states that in 2010, the Department of Corrections closed the Security Threat Group Management Unit (STGMU) at Northern State Prison. As a result of SGTMU's closure, the Department deleted all terms and references, including the definition of “security threat group” from N.J.A.C. 10A pertaining to the STGMU.
3. FN3. Sergeant Spires' full name does not appear in the record.