Oklahoma's Failed Grievance System Challenged in Court

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[Campaigns] [Oklahoma] [ULK Issue 26]
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Oklahoma's Failed Grievance System Challenged in Court

Recently there was a victory for Oklahoma's prisoner population, with respect to the difficulty of having grievances heard and adequately addressed. On February 29 2012, a magistrate judge held that Director Justin Jones "wrongfully established, maintained and enforced the grievance policy and authorized punishment for inmates who show disrespect to staff." The magistrate further held that Director Justin Jones had: "failed to establish an available administrative remedy on the claim involving the policy on grievance restrictions and disregarded the claim against Mr. Jones for the disciplinary policy involving disrespect to staff."

On February 2 2011, the Plaintiff in this case filed a grievance challenging his placement on a grievance restriction. Five days later, the grievance coordinator returned the grievance and checked the box for "Not an issue grievable to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (Private Prisons property, misconduct, see OP-090124, Section 11.B.1.), litigation pending, not within/under."

In response to a complaint made by the Plaintiff, Director Jones argued that the he had "failed to exhaust his administrative remedies." Director Jones's argument consisted of the following sentence: "Here the prison's administrative records demonstrate that Plaintiff has not filed any grievance/grievance appeal regarding his being placed on 'Grievance Restriction.'"

Director Jones relied on an affidavit by Debbie Morton, which stated that the Plaintiff had not appealed the February 7 grievance decision to her office. Presumably, the Plaintiff did not appeal the decision because the grievance coordinator has told him that the complaint was not grievable.(1) Even at the time of the magistrate's report and recommendation, Director Jones still did not submit any evidence to suggest that the complaint would have been grievable.

"The plain language of the [Prison Litigation Reform Act] requires that prisoners exhaust only available remedies." Tuckel v. Grover, 660 F. 3d 1249, 1252 (10th Cir. 2011) (quoting 42 U.S.C. 1997e(a)). The Oklahoma Department of Corrections's (ODOC's) special report includes excerpts from the grievance policy, but those portions do not identify the matters that are grievable. The magistrate held "thus, Mr. Jones has failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating an available administrative remedy to contest imposition of a grievance restriction or punishment for disrespect to staff."

In his conclusion, the magistrate stated as follows: "When the Defendant's evidence is reviewed favorably to [the Plaintiff] as required, one can reasonably infer that there was no available administrative remedy to contest his placement on a grievance restriction or the punishment for disrespect to staff. As a result, the court should reject Mr. Jones' argument for dismissal or summary judgement on the basis of exhaustion."

As stated and shown above, my fellow comrades in Oklahoma prisons have no available administrative remedy to contest a grievance restriction or punishment for "disrespect to staff," due to an erroneous establishment of a grievance policy or disciplinary policy. The above outlined lawsuit was filed on March 17 2011 against the Directory of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. If comrades in Oklahoma have been placed on grievance restriction, follow the policy while on that restriction and see to it that the oppressor is dealt with justly.

Further, if comrades are housed at private prisons, know that the ODOC and private companies are in cahoots with each other in an effort to deny you a Constitutional right permitting you to petition the government for a redress of grievances.


Note:
Lyon v. Krol, 305 F. 3d 806, 810 (8th Cir. 2002) (en ban); Bright, J. dissenting) (stating that dismissal for nonexhaustion would have been unwarranted because prison officials may have "creat[ed] the impression that [the prisoner's] claims were not grievable through the [prison] grievance system").

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