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New Jersey MCU Suit Settled

On December 22, 1995, the federal district court in New Jersey signed a settlement order dismissing a class action suit filed by prisoners in New Jersey's Management Control Unit (MCU). The plaintiff class in the suit was composed of all black prisoners in the MCU since 1990. The settlement sets forth numerous procedural measures that must be met by the DOC before prisoners are placed in MCU. The suit was aimed at ending MCU placement based on prisoners' race under the guise of "gang control."

The settlement requires that prisoners be provided a concise statement of the factual basis upon which the MCU placement is being recommended, not mere conclusions. If confidential information is used, a concise factual summary must be supplied. The prisoner must also be told the basis for believing that the informant is credible and reliable. A record must be maintained of the MCU placement proceeding, which includes a summary of the evidence presented, of the statements made by the participants, a log of evidence considered and the committee's decision. The record must be certified as a true and accurate representation of the proceedings.

"Prior to rendering a decision to place or maintain a plaintiff in the MCU, the MCURC [MCU Review Committee] shall consider alternatives to MCU placement as a means of addressing the institutional concerns related to the plaintiff. These alternatives shall include, but not be limited to: transfer to another institution, reduction in privileges, and transfer to another housing unit in general population. The MCURC shall include in the record of the hearing a written indication of the alternatives considered." MCU placement decisions must be based on information in the record.

The settlement also states that prisoners in MCU can request an out of state transfer. The DOC must respond and if it denies the request it must provide an explanation. Prisoners placed in MCU must be given at least an annual review of their MCU status. The settlement states that the prisoner bears the burden of proving he is fit for release from the MCU by demonstrating he has participated in required jobs, programs, educational programs, etc.; complied with MCURC criteria; and remained infraction free for the past year. "If the plaintiff demonstrates the above criteria, he will be considered for release from the MCU and will be released unless the DOC can demonstrate through substantial evidence including behavior and attitude adjustment and disciplinary history that the plaintiff continues to pose an identifiable threat to the safety of others, of damage to or destruction of property or of interrupting the operation of a state correctional facility."

As part of the settlement the parties agreed to the appointment of a special master acceptable to both (who would be paid $20,000) to hear appeals from all prisoners placed in MCU prior to the suit's settlement. The prisoners would be represented in this process by class counsel. The special master's findings would be final and binding. Within 270 days of settlement the DOC has to provide all class members with a copy of the information used to initially place them in MCU. The settlement allows prisoners to seek review of their MCU placement either pro se, through their own counsel or through class counsel.

The agreement provides that it shall remain in effect for a period of two and a half years after filing. The settlement provides that all class members released from MCU as part of the special master review will be paid $17.50 for each day spent in the MCU. Class counsel received $150,000 in attorney fees, $10,000 of which would go to pay the special master. This settlement represents a significant advance for NJ prisoners by attempting to eliminate arbitrary claims that had been used to place minority prisoners in MCU. In the past the NJ has harshly repressed political prisoners, Muslims, pan Afrikanists, and others. This has included out of state transfers and lengthy MCU placements. See: Pack v. Beyer, Civil Action No. 91-3709 (AET). Readers should note this is an unpublished settlement that applies only to NJ state prisoners.

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Related legal case

Pack v. Beyer