Procedures for Inmate Grievances
The following was presented to the Community Criminal Justice Board on 29 August 2016:
Review and Update Procedures for Inmate Grievances
Both staff and inmates benefit from cogent, documented policies which articulate the methods to question and receive responses from administrators. In that regard, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) of 1996, a solid, non-discriminatory grievance procedure is viewed as an element of positive correctional management which assists in creating safe, institutional environments.
Additionally, as the intent of PLRA was to significantly impact on the number of frivolous lawsuits clogging federal court dockets, the language of the statute dictates that inmates must “exhaust all administrative remedies” prior to filing lawsuits.
All correctional facilities should appointment an “Inmate Ombudsman” who maintains accountability and equality in grievance procedures. He or she constantly should review the processes to insure that timeliness, fairness, and rational responses are inherent in the processes. Further, as relevant, modifications and improvements should be initiated to maintain positive and fluid communication between personnel and the justice-involved.
At intake, a resident handbook should be distribute which contains a clear, concise grievance mechanism which is delineated in two distinct sections: policy and procedures. Policy must define allowable categories for submitting complaints. Procedures must be instructional as to the steps of the process, forms, identities of the arbiters, anticipated time frame, and appeal process. The latter supports the credibility, while offering each individual the opportunity to further receive information and, perhaps, reconsideration.
Fair and objective inmate grievance procedures are critical in every correctional facility to insure that all voices are heard. Integrity in the process provides all incarcerated persons, without reprisal or retaliation, access to information, ability to question management, and express concerns regarding the conditions of confinement. Further, an element of participation in their life situation is empowering and humane to those who have no control over their daily existence.
Improve Conditions of Confinement
- No one should be confined to the holding area for more than 12 hours without being provided with a blanket and mattress while waiting to be placed in a regular cell.
- No one should be confined to a segregation cell or placed on lockdown for long periods of time without opportunities for regular physical exercise and mental stimulation.
- Non-violent offenders should be able to come the visitation area without being in handcuffs (and prison garb?).
- All inmates should be able to wear ordinary civilian clothes to court appearances.
- Families of inmates should not have to bear the burden of paying an arbitrary $1 per day in jail “rent” ($3 for MRRJ) before their family members can purchase commissary items.
- Commissary items and phone service should be provided at reasonable cost and not for profit.
- Quality health care should be provided for all inmates regardless of their ability to pay, and those on prescribed medications should be able to continue them without interruption.
- Suicidally depressed inmates should not be placed in a restraint chair or confined to the isolated padded cell due to the lack of sufficient mental health personnel.
- Well vetted local mental health professionals should be solicited—on a voluntary basis if necessary—to provide crisis intervention if a CSB worker is not available.
Adopt Best Practices That Help Reduce Recidivism
- Have a Community Oversight and Accountability Board be appointed for each local jail.
- Provide more pre- and post-release vocational training and educational programs to help inmates become gainfully employed.
- Eliminate laws and policies that serve as obstacles to the successful reintegration of former inmates into the communities (such as limitations on getting a driver’s licenses or trade licenses, the burden of fines with accumulated interest having been incurred while in prison, prohibitions against receiving social services such as food stamps, low income housing, etc.).