Department of Corrections Disciplinary Hearing Officer
The Disciplinary Hearing Officer serves a qusi-judical function by adjudicating charges that inmates receive from Officers for violating institutional rules or procedures. These violations can be the same as a criminal charge but, more often are for offences that only relate to the running the institution. A typical example of this kind of charge is “Refusing an Order” of an Officer or “Using Abusive Language” against the staff. Fighting between inmates is the most common infraction however, any break in policy can result in a Disciplinary charge to an inmate.
Referred to by inmates as the “Jail House Judge” or “Courtline”, the Disciplinary Hearing Officers reviews the charges against the inmate in the form of reports written by the Officer and all other supporting documentation, including any evidence that may have been collected, and then holds a hearing with the accused inmate.
The inmate is given the opportunity to plead ‘Not guilty’, Guilty or Guilty with an Explanation, to the charge. The inmate may request witnesses on his behalf or other supplemental material to help in his defense. After review of all of the material, the Disciplinary Hearing Officer makes a decision on the inmate’s guilt or innocence for the charges against him.
The standard used by the Disciplinary Hearing Officer is not the same “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in criminal charges but, instead the standard is a showing of “substantial evidence” that a violation occurred.
If an inmate is found guilty of a charge, the Disciplinary Hearing Officer imposes a sanction. These sanctions vary depending on the degree and severity of the charge as well as taken into account the inmate’s previous disciplinary history. A minor infraction may only result in a “On the Spot Correction” which is a warning to the inmate to correct his behavior. The more common sanction is imposition of “Sanction Housing” which requires the inmate to be housed in an isolation cell where he is locked down for twenty-three hours a day in his own cell, allowing only one hour out. This sanction is often referred to by the inmates as “going to the hole”. This sanction may be imposed anywhere from one day to thirty days. In the more severe cases, the Disciplinary Hearing Officer may impose Administrative Segregation, which is similar to Sanction Housing except the minimum duration is usually three months and may last up to a year. Finally, the Disciplinary Hearing Officer has the ability to recommend the loss of “good time”, which results in a longer sentence for the inmate.
The disciplinary sanctions are not to be considered as punitive, but instead promote behavior modification from the inmate.
Ocean County Department of Corrections processes approximately six hundred hearings annually. While the preparation of these hearings may be done by several different staff members, most all of the hearings are conducted by one hearing officer.
In accordance with Federal and State regulations, the hearing must be done within seven days of the infraction by the inmate.