by Mrs. Ge Ge
From PHN Issue 31, Winter 2017
Most of what I will be talking about is based on Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) policy. But this information might be useful in other states. Whenever you need to write a grievance, you should first review the policy in your facility regarding grievances. In Pennsylvania (PA), that policy is DC-ADM 804. Remember that not all grievances are winners, so it is important to find any case law that is similar to your situation to use in the grievance.
If your prison requires you to try to resolve the issue with staff before a grievance, then do so. Even if you know they will not help. You want to exhaust all remedies first. Remedies are things that can be done to resolve or fix an issue. It is also a good idea to get in the habit of documenting all interactions between you and staff, and other important events. This can be done by simply keeping a journal to log the dates, times, and locations, and what staff are involved. That way, if later you need to recall certain information, you have a detailed log to rely on. In PA if you ask for a grievance, you will be asked what it is for. Answer cautiously. You don’t have to say names unless you are asked. You don’t want to give a heads up to staff that the grievance is about them. Just give the basics.
The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook and the Prisoners’ Rights Handbook are a good start for finding case law to match up with your grievance. Even if you can’t find similar cases or yours doesn’t seem to be a winner, you can still file the grievance. The Prisoners’ Rights Handbook was written for people in PA prisons, but it covers U.S. Supreme Court decisions that apply to people in any state or the federal system.
Also, you should review any and all policies that the issue pertains to. In PA, Policy 7.2.1 states that any staff receiving a DC-135A Request to Staff must respond within 5 working days, excluding holidays and weekends. If you have sent the request and it is not answered within that timeframe, then staff are in violation of your due process rights.
Now you are ready to file your grievance. Get all your thoughts together. Get all the relevant information. If you have witnesses, remember, you cannot file a joint grievance. You just want them to be mentioned in the grievance. If the issue affects them, they can file a separate grievance and use you as the witness and vice versa. You want to be as detailed as possible. But do not tell them your life story. You want to be as direct as possible. State the facts and the evidence. Attach any supporting documents, but make sure to make copies for yourself first. They don’t have to give you copies of any submitted material.
Most prisons have time limits for filing a grievance, and staff have time limits to respond to your grievance. In PA, you have 15 work days to file your grievance, and staff have 15 work days to respond. However, they also have the option of an extension of time to respond. In PA, they can get an additional 10 work days to respond. The same limits apply to an appeal to the facility manager. On the final level of appeals, you have 15 work days from the date they responded to file your appeal, and the DOC has 30 work days to respond and an extension of 10 work days. Remember, the time limits apply on the date the grievance is received, not the date you write it. The date should be logged on the receipt of grievance.
In your appeal, you can only raise issues that are in your initial grievance or decisions the facility or DOC makes that your grievance was frivolous, which basically means that the grievance has no real cause. They are pretty much calling you a cry baby. Do not let that stop you, though. Appeal through all levels, and if you are not satisfied with the results, you can raise a lawsuit.
I hope this information is useful to you all, and I encourage you all to get to the library and review any and all policies in the prison you are in. This is how we learn to use these policies to our advantage and stop the gulags from taking advantage of us. We must learn to unite and teach and help each other to win this struggle. I send you all my love and solidarity…
Sincerely, Mrs. Ge Ge
To get a copy of the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook and the Prisoners’ Rights Handbook, you can write to this address. They will send it to you for free. They also have a PA Directory of Services.
PA Institutional Law Project
718 Arch Street
Suite 304 South
Philadelphia, PA 19106