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SC Administrative Law Court Decisions

CAPTION:
Shabaka S. Makhu #173788 vs. SCDOC

AGENCY:
South Carolina Department of Corrections

PARTIES:
Appellant:
Shabaka S. Makhu #173788

Respondent:
South Carolina Department of Corrections
 
DOCKET NUMBER:
01-ALJ-04-00518-AP

APPEARANCES:
n/a
 

ORDERS:

ORDER
GRIEVANCE NO. PCI 0112-01

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

This matter comes before the Administrative Law Judge Division (ALJD or Division) pursuant to the decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in Al-Shabazz v. State, 338 S.C. 354, 527 S.E.2d 742 (2000). Appellant Shabaka S. Makhu contends that Department of Corrections (DOC or Department) officials have arbitrarily manipulated his "max-out" (i.e., release) date, and that, in reviewing his grievance on that count, the Department neglected to conscientiously address his claims. Having reviewed the record, applicable law, and the briefs filed by the parties in this matter, I conclude that the decision of the Department to deny Appellant's grievance must be affirmed.

BACKGROUND

On August 14, 2000, Appellant filed a grievance alleging that his "max-out" date was being arbitrarily manipulated by a DOC Disciplinary Hearing Officer and the warden of his correctional institution in a manner contrary to Department policy. Specifically, Appellant claims that his projected release date could not have been extended as a result of recent disciplinary convictions because "[he] had at no time been discipline free whereas to earn [good-time credit] . . . for seizure." ("Inmate's Reason for Appeal," Grievance # PCI 0112-01, Inmate Grievance Form, Step 2) (emphasis in original). Unsatisfied with the Department's response to this grievance, Appellant brought the instant appeal before the ALJD, claiming that the Department had failed to "conscientiously address" the issues raised in his grievance.

ANALYSIS

In Al-Shabazz, the South Carolina Supreme Court held that inmates may seek review of final decisions of the Department in certain "non-collateral" or administrative matters (i.e., those matters in which an inmate does not challenge the validity of a conviction or sentence) by appealing those decisions to the ALJD pursuant to the South Carolina Administrative Procedures Act (APA). Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 376, 527 S.E.2d at 754. In McNeil v. South Carolina Department of Corrections, a majority of the judges of the ALJD, sitting en banc, held that this tribunal's jurisdiction to hear inmate appeals under Al-Shabazz is limited to: (1) cases in which an inmate contends that prison officials have erroneously calculated his sentence, sentence-related credits, or custody status, and (2) cases in which the Department has taken an inmate's created liberty interest as punishment in a major disciplinary hearing. McNeil v. S.C. Dep't of Corrections, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, slip op. at 4-5 (S.C. Admin. Law Judge. Div. Sept. 5, 2001) (en banc). In the case at hand, Appellant contends that the Department improperly calculated his sentence; accordingly, this tribunal has jurisdiction over this matter.

When reviewing the Department's decisions in inmate grievance matters, the ALJD sits in an appellate capacity. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 377, 527 S.E.2d at 754. Consequently, this tribunal's review of inmate appeals is confined to the record presented, id., and its inquiry into these matters is primarily concerned with ensuring that the Department has granted aggrieved inmates the process they are due when their constitutional rights are implicated. Id. at 369, 527 S.E.2d at 750; McNeil, No. 00-ALJ-04-00336-AP, at 5 ("[O]ur review is limited solely to the determination of whether the Department granted 'minimal due process' in reaching [its] decisions . . . ."). Further, recognizing that prison officials are in the best position to decide inmate disciplinary matters, this tribunal will adhere to the traditional "hands off" approach to internal prison disciplinary policies and procedures when reviewing inmate appeals under the APA. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 382, 527 S.E.2d at 757; see also Pruitt v. State, 274 S.C. 565, 266 S.E.2d 779 (1980) (stating the traditional "hands off" approach of South Carolina courts regarding internal prison discipline and policy). However, notwithstanding this deferential standard of review, this tribunal must conduct meaningful review of the Department's actions to ensure that inmate grievances are addressed in a fair, reasonable, and efficient manner. Al-Shabazz, 338 S.C. at 383, 527 S.E.2d at 757.

Here, Appellant's contention that his "max-out" date has been arbitrarily manipulated is unfounded. Appellant may be correct in stating that he had no earned good-time credits to be revoked as a result of his most recent disciplinary convictions, and thus correct in noting that his projected release date could not have been adjusted based on such revocations. However, Appellant clearly overlooks another ground upon which his projected "max-out" date can be adjusted: his failure to earn good-time credits in the first place as a result of disciplinary convictions. Under Department policy, "[a]n inmate who pleads guilty or is found guilty of violating an Agency rule or regulation will fail to earn [20] days of good time for the month during which the infraction occurred." DOC Policy/Procedure OP-21.11(3)(a) (emphasis added). Therefore, even if the Department does not, or cannot (e.g., because an inmate has no accrued good-time credit), revoke an inmate's earned good-time credit as punishment for a disciplinary conviction, the inmate will nevertheless still fail to earn good-time credit as a result of the conviction. And, this failure to earn good-time credit will result in an adjustment to the inmate's projected release date. (1)

In the case at hand, while Appellant has not had good-time credit revoked as a result of his most recent disciplinary convictions, he has failed to earn good-time credit because of those convictions, and his release date has been adjusted accordingly. Therefore, there has been no "arbitrary manipulation" of Appellant's "max-out" date. (2)

IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Department's denial of Appellant's grievance is AFFIRMED.

AND IT IS SO ORDERED.

JOHN D. GEATHERS

Administrative Law Judge



June 21, 2002

Columbia, South Carolina

1. The projected "max-out" date is a projection of an inmate's release date that presumes an inmate will earn and retain the maximum amount of good-time credit possible for the remainder of his sentence. See Maxout Date Calculation Worksheet.

2. Appellant's other contention-that the Department failed to "conscientiously address" his grievance-is also without merit. See "Responsible Official's Decision and Reason," Grievance # PCI 0112-01, Inmate Grievance Form, Step 2 (explaining that Appellant fails to earn twenty days of good-time credit for a month in which he commits a disciplinary infraction).


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