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People Ex Rel. Ponder v. Bensinger

OPINION FILED MARCH 29, 1974.

THE PEOPLE EX REL. HENRY C. PONDER, PETITIONER,

v.

PETER B. BENSINGER ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



Original petition for habeas corpus.

MR. JUSTICE SCHAEFER DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Leave to file this original petition for habeas corpus was granted on September 20, 1973, and the matter is now before us on the petition, the respondents' motion to dismiss, and facts stipulated by the petitioner, Henry C. Ponder, and the respondents, who are officials of the Department of Corrections.

In June of 1962, a jury in the circuit court of Cook County found Ponder guilty of assault with intent to commit murder, and he was sentenced to imprisonment for not less than 1 nor more than 14 years. In July of 1962, Ponder pleaded guilty to two indictments charging him with voluntary manslaughter and to one indictment charging him with armed robbery. On his pleas of guilty he was sentenced to three concurrent terms of imprisonment for not less than 2 nor more than 20 years. These sentences were to be served concurrently with the sentence for assault with attempt to commit murder. His post-conviction petition, which alleged that his pleas of guilty were coerced, was denied after a hearing, and the appellate court affirmed. People v. Ponder (1973), 10 Ill. App.3d 613.

The petition alleges that Ponder is due to be released from the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet on May 29, 1975, that 27 months of his "good time" credits were revoked without due process of law by the Department of Corrections in prison disciplinary proceedings conducted in 1966, 1967, and 1971, and that if those credits were restored, he would be eligible for immediate and unconditional release.

Summarized, in 1966 Ponder was charged with having refused to obey an order, having threatened a prison officer, and having called an officer obscene names; in 1967 he was charged with having created a disturbance in the isolation office by refusing to go to his isolation cell when ordered to do so, cursing prison officers and resisting and fighting officers as they placed him in an isolation cell.

Both in 1966 and in 1967, the Disciplinary Captain of the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet conducted a fact-finding hearing to determine the truth of the charges. Ponder was notified orally of the accusations against him either at the time he appeared before the Disciplinary Captain or immediately prior thereto. Written statements of the accusing guards were read at the hearing, and Ponder was given an opportunity to respond. In each instance the Disciplinary Captain adopted the written statements of the guards as his findings of fact and referred the findings to the Merit Staff of the prison for review and disciplinary action. One of the five members of the Merit Staff was the Disciplinary Captain who had conducted the fact-finding hearing. Ponder did not appear before the Merit Staff. As a result of the proceedings in 1966 and 1967, the Merit Staff recommended that a total of 15 months of Ponder's "good time" be revoked. Both the warden of the prison and the Director of the Department of Corrections approved those recommendations.

In 1971, Ponder was charged with striking and fighting with prison guards. A three-member disciplinary committee, one of whom was a non-custodial employee of the prison, conducted another fact-finding hearing. Ponder was given written notice of the accusations against him either at the time of the hearing or immediately prior to his appearance. Written statements of the accusing guards were read at the hearing, and Ponder responded by admitting the truth of the charges. The disciplinary committee adopted the written statements of the guards as its findings of fact, gave Ponder a written statement of their decision, and recommended that he forfeit one year of good time. The findings and recommendation were referred to the Merit Staff.

In 1971, the administrative regulations required that the Merit Staff have five members

"* * * composed of persons in the following classifications, as designated by the Chief Administrative Officer:

a. An Assistant Chief Administrative Officer — Merit Staff Chairman,

b. Two members of the program staff,

c. Two senior custodial staff members of lieutenant rank or above."

Ponder appeared before the Merit Staff and again admitted the truth of the charges. After considering Ponder's prison record and the number and character of his rule infractions, the Merit Staff recommended that one year of good time be revoked. Both the warden of the prison and the Director of the Department of Corrections approved the Merit Staff's recommendation.

The requirements of due process as they apply to internal prison disciplinary proceedings have been the subject of increasing judicial, administrative and legislative attention in recent years, and the procedures that were followed in 1966, in 1967, and in 1971 have been superseded by comprehensive legislation and new regulations that afford additional safeguards for prison disciplinary hearings. ...


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