283 F.3d 506 (3rd Cir. 2002), 00-5062, Fraise v. Terhune

Docket Nº:00-5062.
Citation:283 F.3d 506
Party Name:Jael FRAISE, Appellant, v. Jack TERHUNE, Commissioner. Alexander Kettles, Appellant, v. James Barbo; Howard Beyer. John Harris, Appellant, v. James Barbo; Howard Beyer.
Case Date:March 13, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
 
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Page 506

283 F.3d 506 (3rd Cir. 2002)

Jael FRAISE, Appellant,

v.

Jack TERHUNE, Commissioner.

Alexander Kettles, Appellant,

v.

James Barbo; Howard Beyer.

John Harris, Appellant,

v.

James Barbo; Howard Beyer.

No. 00-5062.

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

March 13, 2002

Argued March 12, 2001

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Gregory B. Pasquale [argued], Drinker Biddle & Shanley, LLP, Florham Park, NJ, for Appellants.

John J. Farmer, Jr., Attorney General of New Jersey, Patrick DeAlmeida, Deputy Attorney General, Jeffrey K. Gladden [argued], Deputy Attorney General, Trenton, NJ, for Appellees.

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Before: ALITO, RENDELL, Circuit Judges, and SCHWARZER, District Court Judge.1

OPINION

ALITO, Circuit Judge.

Jael Fraise, Alexander Kettles, and John Harris filed actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging the constitutionality as applied to them of a New Jersey prison policy that allows correctional officials to designate "security threat groups" ("STGs") and transfer core members of these groups to a special unit. Once in this unit, core members must participate in a behavior modification program before returning to the general prison population. The plaintiffs asserted that these regulations violate numerous constitutional provisions, including the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, who are New Jersey prison officials. We affirm.

I.

A.

Faced with increasing gang violence in correctional facilities throughout the state, the New Jersey Department of Corrections promulgated a policy in 1998 that was designed to isolate and rehabilitate gang members. Under this policy, prison officials can designate STGs and transfer the "core" members of these groups to the "Security Threat Group Management Unit" ("STGMU"). The goal of this policy is to "limit Security Threat Group activities and, in doing so, minimize the occurrence of assaults on staff and inmates." App. 125.

The specifics of this policy were outlined in a Department of Corrections document entitled "Policy Statement for the Management of Security Threat Group Members" ("STG Policy"). See App. at 125-52. Related regulations were also issued.

The STG Policy defines an STG as:

A group of inmates, designated by the Commissioner, who may gather together regularly and informally, possessing common characteristics, interests and goals which serve to distinguish the group or group members from other inmate groups or other inmates and which, as a discrete entity, poses a threat to the safety of staff, other inmates, the community, and/or damages to, or destruction of property, and/or interrupting the safe, secure and orderly operation of the correctional facility(ies).

App. 126. STGs are officially designated by the Commissioner based on recommendations from the Intelligence Section of the Central Office Internal Affairs Unit ("Intelligence Section") of the Department of Corrections. See id. at 128.

The STG Policy lists several factors that the Intelligence Section takes into account in considering whether a group should be designated as an STG. See id. These include the following characteristics of the group: (1) its history and purpose; (2) its organizational structure; (3) the propensity for violence of the group and its members; (4) actual or planned acts of violence reasonably attributable to the group; (5) other illegal or prohibited acts reasonably attributable to the group; (6) the "[d]emographics of the group," including its size, location, and pattern of expansion or decline; and (7) the degree of threat that the group poses. See App. 128. Designation of a group as an STG has the effect of

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prohibiting inmates from engaging in activities related to the group. Under prison regulations, it is a serious infraction for an inmate to "participat[e] in an activity related to a security threat group," N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(.010), or to "possess[] or exhibit[] anything related to a security threat group." N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(.011). It is also a serious infraction for an inmate to attempt to do either of the above. See N.J.A.C. 10A:4-4.1(.803).

The STG Policy lists criteria to be considered in determining whether a particular inmate should be classified as an STG member. These include: (1) an inmate's acknowledgment of membership; (2) the presence of an STG tattoo; (3) the possession of STG paraphernalia; (4) information from an outside agency; (5) information from an Internal Affairs report or investigation; (6) correspondence from other inmates or outside contacts; (7) STG photographs; and (8) any other factors that suggest that the inmate is involved in STG activities2 or is an STG member. See App. 129. Any inmate who satisfies two of these criteria may be designated as an STG member.

An inmate may be identified as a "core" member of an STG if one or more of the following conditions is satisfied:

1. The inmate has a [Department of Corrections] documented status as a recognized Security Threat Group leader;

2. The inmate has taken a [Department of Corrections] documented part/role in an activity, behavior or involvement in an event/incident associated with a Security Threat Group;

3. The inmate's [Department of Corrections] documented activities, behavior or involvement in an event/incident whether associated with a Security Threat Group or not, poses a threat to the safety of staff, other inmates, or the community; cause damages to, or destruction of property; cause the interruption of the safe, secure and orderly operation of the correctional facilities;

4. The inmate has been identified as a Security Threat Group Member and has been found guilty of a prohibited act which is an asterisk offence [sic] in accordance with N.J.A.C. 10A:4 "Inmate Discipline" whether or not this offense was related to a Security Threat Group's activities or not.3

Id. at 130.

If an inmate is identified as a core member, the inmate is transferred to the STGMU and placed in "Pre-Hearing Security Threat Group Management Unit" status. App. 131. At this point, the inmate is provided with written notice that he or she is being considered for placement in the STGMU and is given at least 48 hours' notice of the hearing before the STGMU Hearing Committee. Id. At the hearing,

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the inmate may appear in person or may present his or her case through a representative or through written submissions. Id. at 132. The STGMU Hearing Committee may validate the assignment of the inmate to the STGMU if the evidence supports a finding that the inmate is an STG member, has taken an active role in STG activities, and satisfies one of the four previously mentioned conditions. Id. at 133. If the STGMU Hearing Committee assigns the inmate to the STGMU, the inmate may appeal to the administrator of the prison. Id. The administrator's decision may then be challenged in state court.

An inmate assigned to the STGMU remains in maximum custody until the inmate successfully completes a three-phase behavior modification and education program. App. 135. This program "is designed to give the inmate the insight and tools necessary to interact appropriately, without the perceived need of membership in a Security Threat Group." Id. The inmate is taught anger management, conflict resolution, and social interactive skills that feature alternatives to violence. Id. The Committee monitors the inmate's progress and determines whether the inmate should advance to the next phase and eventually return to the general prison population. Id. In order to complete the program and return to the general prison population, an inmate must sign a form renouncing affiliation with all STGs. See App. at 248, 302-04, 443.

B.

The Five Percent Nation originated in New York City in the 1960s after its leader, Clarence Smith (also known as Clarence 13X and Father Allah), broke away from the Nation of Islam. The group's name derives from its belief in "Supreme Mathematics," which breaks down the population of the world into three groups: the Ten Percent, the Eighty Five Percent, and the Five Percent.

The Ten Percent are those who have subjugated most of the world. They include white people and others who propagate the myth of a nonexistent "mystery God."4 The Ten Percent are described as follows in a Five Percent Nation text:

[The 10% are] the rich, slave makers of the poor. Who teach[] the poor lies to believe that the Almighty true and living God is a spook and cannot be seen by the physical eye, otherwise known as the blood suckers of the poor.

App. 361.

The Eighty-Five Percent are those who are subjugated and deceived. They "worship what they know not, ... are easily led in the wrong direction but [are] hard to lead in the right direction." App. 361.

Finally, the Five Percent are African Americans who have achieved self-knowledge. App. 361. They "know the black man's true nature and that God is within man himself." Appellants' Br. at 14. Male members of the group are referred to as "Gods," female members are called "Earths," and the group often refers to itself as "The Nation of Gods and Earths." See App. 458. A declaration of a member explains:

.. The Nation of Gods and Earths emphasizes the individual, human freedom and choice.

.. Our teachings include texts such as the Bible, the Koran, "The 120 Degrees," "Supreme Mathematics," and "Supreme Alphabet".

.. The Nation of Gods and Earths teaches that ... our status, as black

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men, is commensurate with that of the Supreme being.

.. We teach man to stop looking for a mystical God to come and solve our problems but to take...

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