Grievance battle tactics in Georgia

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[Campaigns] [Wheeler Correctional Facility] [Georgia]

Grievance battle tactics in Georgia

In 2012 at Wheeler Correctional Facility (a "Corrections Corporation of America" facility) the prison was following Georgia Department of Corrections (GDC)'s standard operating procedure (SOP) for it's grievance procedure. Step 1 was an informal grievance (with a 10-day response time). Writing space on the form was limited to just 3 lines. Responses were also limited to 3 lines. Step 2 was a formal grievance (with a 30-day response time). Writing space was a 2.5" by 6" box on the form. If required, the prisoner could attach 1 additional page to the grievance. For my formal grievance, I used the entire box and 1 attachment page. This was approximately 34 more additional lines of pertinent information to investigate than on my informal grievance.

However, the response I received was the same verbatim 3-sentence response I received to my informal. This was the practice at Wheeler Correctional Facility in 2012. At Step 3, the appeal to GDC's Central Office, I complained that merely repeating the same response to the informal grievance was ignoring the information/concerns contained in the 34 more additional lines of information in my formal grievance. I also pointed out this implied the prison wasn't investigating formal grievances and that this would constitute deliberate indifference.

Later the same month GDC's central office issued a statewide memorandum to both it's state facilities and the private facilities who's grievance procedure it oversees (Wheeler Correctional Facility is one of them), announcing statewide policy changes in the following manner: 1. The informal step of the grievance procedure is abolished, and; 2. an optional 10-day extension was added to the 30 day response time for formal grievances.

This is actually a decision in our favor. One reason is because now the facility-level grievance process requires less unnecessary writing. Another reason is because the optional 10-day extension is rarely, if ever, being taken and because of this it is now taking less time to receive responses to grievances which formerly would have initially lingered, unresolved, through the informal step of the process. This is true for the majority of all grievances filed.

I will now share one of the methods I've created for defeating one of the tactics which prison officials use to wrongfully deny grievances. A tactic frequently used by prison officials, to wrongfully reject or deny a prisoner's legitimate grievance, is to intentionally misinterpret pertinent information relevant to the grievance as being "multiple issues" or "more than one issue". This doesn't necessarily mean the grievance is complaining of more than one issue. It's often just information necessary to explain or understand your grievance, or to allow an effective investigation into your grievance, etc. Whatever the scenario in your particular case, you should emphasize this in the appeal of your rejected/denied grievance.

As a pre emptory strike to prevent prison officials from utilizing this "multiple issues" tactic, I will begin the 1st sentence of my formal grievance by writing "this is a grievance of...", then I state the single issue I am grieving. I follow this by writing "all other information contained in this grievance is necessary for explaining or understanding the grievance", etc.

Because I have already clarified this to prison officials in advance, they cannot rely on their supposed confusion, as to what issue you are grieving, to reject or deny your grievance for "multiple issues". If they do, then just point out this error in reasoning in your appeal. For example, "The grievance is not of multiple issues, as I have clearly identified the single issues I am grieving in the 1st sentence of my grievance". Your appeal of such a denial should also explain that prison officials allegation of "multiple issues" (when they already know better, because you'd already clarified this for them in the first sentence of your grievance), can only be construed as a retaliation against you for having utilized the grievance procedure. Be sure to explain your latter allegation, of retaliation, "information necessary for an understanding of the appropriateness for this appeal".

I have seen that when you are consistently being this specific and reasonable it renders prison officials unable to utilize this particular tactic without it becoming obvious that they are retaliating against you in violation of your 1st amendment rights. This makes a prima facie showing of retaliation so plain it would allow a court to side with you against prison officials' motion for dismissal of summary judgement (alleging that you failed to exhaust your administrative remedies), by ruling that you properly complied with the grievance procedure and therefore have exhausted your administrative remedies as required by the Prisoner's Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) ยง42 U.S.C. 1997(e)(a).

In addition, I encourage anyone who encounters this "multiple issues" tactic to report it by executing the grievance petition available from MIM's "We Demand Our Grievances Be Addressed" grievance campaign. Like the editor's have said, even if this initially fails, such failures can be used to show how the purportedly neutral criminal injustice system contrives against us.