This pamphlet is a compilation of the work a prisoner, who is a member of the National Lawyer's Guild (Jailhouse Lawyer member) and sits on the Steering Committee of the NLG Mass Incarceration Committee and a pamphlet produced by the Director of the Prisoners' Rights Program, Texas Civil Rights Project (Oficina legal del Pueblo Unido, Inc. 1405 Montopolis Drive Austin, Tx 78741-3438 www.TexasCivilRightsProject.org). MIM(Prisons) combined the information put together by these authors and we welcome feedback, corrections and additions.
Regardless of what mistakes you may have made in the past, there is one thing that being in prison can never change, and that's the fact that as a humyn being you have unalienable rights. These rights can never be taken away from you. The Texa$ prison system encourages the belief that we have no rights, that somehow by violating a statutory law you lose your constitutional or humyn rights. This is a demoralizing lie. The purpose of prison is to separate us from society for a specific period of time, not to be sadistically mistreated by prison officials. Texa$ will continue to abuse and violate our rights until we make a stand and demand they either reform or abolish their oppressive, outdated and counterproductive ways.
Our greatest advantage is that we have numbers, at least 166,000 prisoners. Our biggest disadvantage is ignorance. Most prisoners don't know their rights. this guide has been written by prisoners for prisoners. It is to show you what your rights are, how to stand up for them, and why it is important to do so. No one on the outside can do this for us. They can help and support us but only those within the prison walls can make a real difference. This guide is the first step in getting things changed: being paid for work, meaningful good time, conjugal visits, not being forced to shave, legitimate rehab programs, and humane living conditions and treatment (just to name a few).
The information in this guide is for the benefit of all Texas prisoners. Empower yourself with its knowledge and then actively pass that knowledge on to others. If you are incarcerated in a state other than Texas, I would encourage you to put together your own grievance guide.
Your Rights in Prison - Learn them!
Here are some of your rights in prison:
- Freedom from discrimination and the right to equal protection
- The right to due process (the fair and proper application of law and policy - this includes disciplinary cases too)
- The right to freedom of speech and expression
- Prison officials can not open legal or privileged mail unless in your presence to inspect for contraband only (See BP 03-91)
- You have to right to practice your religion - you also have the right to meet with a religious leader and to attend religious services of your faith.
- You have the right to decent and safe conditions in prison - prisoners are entitled to sanitary toilet facilities, proper trash procedures and basic supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, toilet paper, razors, shower shoes and cleaning products.
- Guards to not have the right to harm or beat you.
- Prisons must provide prisoners with opportunities for exercise outside their cells
- Prison food needs to meet nutritional standards (not just calorie count)
- Prisons must provide you with adequate medical care
- When you ask for a grievance or request to speak to a ranking office they must do it. It is not discretionary.
- Prisoners have the right to complain about prison conditions and voice their concerns about the treatment they receive without retaliation.
- You have the right against guard harassment
- You have the right against torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.
- Collective punishment is prohibited
- You have the right against being held in slavery or servitude in any form. You must be legitimately compensated for the work you do in prison ("goodtime" in Texas is not legitimate compensation because it is meaningless. It only goes towards parole eligibility - which is still at the Parole Board's discretion - and must be signed back to the State in order to make parole).
- You have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, even for disciplinary cases.
Detailed Guide to Filing a Grievance in a Texas Prison or Jail
In most cases, prisoners must file a grievance about a problem in prison before they can file a lawsuit. The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requires prisoners to "exhaust administrative remedies" before they can take a problem to federal court. Though grievances may not work, an inmate must at least try to fix a problem through the grievance process. In most prisons and jails, "exhausting administrative remedies" requires filing a grievance and an appeal. If an appeal is not also filed, a prisoner has not "exhausted" their remedies and cannot go to federal court.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice
For prisoners in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, complete a Step 1 (I-127) and Step 2 (I-128) grievance. Be careful to follow TDCJ's grievance rules.
Before you file: Talk with prison staff about the problem. This is considered "Informal resolution."
How to file:
- Get a grievance form from TDCJ. Forms should be available in the law library and your housing unit.
- Follow these guidelines when you write your grievance:
Only write about the issue you want help with. Each grievance can only discuss one problem. If you have more than one problem, write a different grievance for each problem. Remember you are limited to writing one grievance per week.
When you write the grievance, explain who you talked to and what they did (if anything) about your problem in the "Informal resolution" part.
Be sure to file your grievance within 15 days of learning about the problem, or as soon as possible.
Make sure you include how you would like to have the problem solved. For example, if you are sick and need to see a doctor, write "I want to see a doctor."
Do not use indecent, vulgar, or threatening language. TDCJ has the right to refuse to process a grievance with bad language.
- TDCJ has 40 days to respond to your Step 1 grievance. You can file a Step 2 grievance as soon as you receive a response to your Step 1 grievance. If 40 days have passed and you have still not received a response and you have not been notified that there will be a delay, you can proceed to file the Step 2 grievance. You must file a Step 2 grievance within 15 days of receiving the response to your Step 1 grievance. TDCJ has 35 more days to process a Step 2 grievance.
- Always keep copies of your returned grievances. You may need them later on and it can be difficult to obtain copies.
Family of TDCJ inmates can also contact TDCJ's Ombudsman at http://www.tdcj.state.tx.us/adminrvw/adminrvw-ombud.htm. Speaking with the Ombudsman does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If You wish to take legal action, you must also make sure Step 1 and Step 2 grievances have properly been filed in most cases. Contacting the Ombudsman is a way to solve problems without having to resort to the courts.
TDCJ polices and procedures
Actions of an employee
Harassment and/or retaliation for use of the grievance procedure or access to courts
Violation of your rights
Loss or damage of personal property by TDCJ
Basic care (things that TDCJ has control over)
State or Federal law
Time served credit disputes
Remedies that are available:
Restitution of property, either monetary or compensatory (see Gov Code §501-007)
Change of policy, procedures, rules or practice
Correction of records
Other relief as appropriate
Remedies not available:
Request for consequential or punitive damages
Request for disciplinary action against guards or employees (Note: you can request that appropriate action be taken to remind the guard of policy/your rights).
Policies are different in every county jail. Please check your inmate handbook for information about how to file a grievance. If you were not given an inmate handbook, ask jail staff how to file a grievance.
If jail staff will not explain how to file a grievance to you, you may not be required to file a grievance before taking your case to court. Make notes about who you asked for help filing a grievance and what they told you.
All county jails are inspected every year by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. To report a problem to the Commission, you can complete an online form here:
http://www.tcjs.state.tx.us/complaint.php. The postal address is: PO Box 12985, Austin TX 78711-2985 (no TDCJ complaints). Contacting the Commission does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If you wish to take legal action, You must also make sure to follow the jail's grievance policies in most cases.
Texas Youth Commission
For prisoners in the Texas Youth Commission there are several options to file a grievance, which are different for children and parents:
For children in TYC Custody, grievance forms are available from the grievance clerk on each dorm. Request a form, complete it, and place it in the drop box on the dorm. TYC has 15 days to respond to the grievance.
For parents, guardians and other youth advocates, grievances can be submitted to TYCs Incident Reporting Center: http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/news/tyc_hotline.html
In an emergency, children, parents and advocates can call 1-866-477-8354, toll-free. Children can make this call from the phones In their dorms for free.
If TYC does not satisfactorily respond to the grievance within 15 business days, you must appeal. Ask the facility who appeals should be given to. Children, parents, and advocates may file appeals in the same way. If the appeal does not resolve the problem within 15 business days, another appeal must be filed with TYC's executive director at TYC's central office.
For children on parole, the process is the same. Children on parole can get a grievance form from the district parole office where they report.
For more information about TYC's grievance process, see TYC's website: http://austin.tyc.state.tx.us/Cfinternet/gap/93/gap9331.htm
Children, family and youth advocates can also contact the Office of the Independent Ombudsman: http://www.tyc.state.tx.us/ombudsman/index.html, an independent watchdog agency supervising TYC. Speaking with the Ombudsman does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If you wish to take legal action, you must also make sure to follow the grievance procedures in most cases.
PLRA Exceptions to Grievance Requirement
There are many exceptions to the PLRA. If you qualify for one of these exceptions, you may not need to file grievances before going to court:
If you file your lawsuit in state court, the PLRA does not apply to TYC and County jail prisoners.
The PLRA only applies to people in prison, so it may be possible to wait until you are released to file your case. (Remember, though, in most cases you must file within 2 years of when the problem occurred. Do not wait to get out if it will take more than 2 years.)
If you want to file a lawsuit because someone you are related to died in prison, you do not need to file grievances.
If there is any doubt about whether you qualify for an exception, you should file grievances. Try to talk to a lawyer before relying on an exception. Overall the authors of this guide encourage prisoners to follow the PLRA guidelines rather than trying to circumvent it with an exception.
Some Noteworthy Government Codes
These Texas Governmental Codes may be useful to quote in your grievance
§500-001 - 'Supervisory or Disciplinary Authority of Inmates' (this prohibits prisoners disciplining or supervising another prisoner)
§501-002 "If an employee of the department commits an assault on an inmate….the executive director shall file a complaint with the proper official of the county in which the offense occurred." (If you are assaulted it could be worthwhile writing the executive director or get your family/friends to contact him directly and remind him of his statutory obligation to contact the sheriff).
§501-003 "The department shall ensure that inmates … are fed good and wholesome food, prepared under sanitary conditions and provided in sufficient quantity and reasonable variety."
§501-007 "The department may pay for the miscellaneous funds appropriated to the division claims made by inmates … for property lost or damaged by the division."
§501-008 Inmate Grievance System - must provide procedures "for an inmate to identify evidence to substantiate the inmates claim."
§501-010 "a) the institutional division shall allow the governor, member of the legislature, and members of the executive and judicial branches to enter at proper hours any part of a facility operated by the division where inmates are housed or work, for purpose of observing the operations of the division. A visitor described by this subsection may talk with inmates away from institutional division employees."
§501-055 Report of Inmate Death
§501-101 Programs and Services for wrongfully imprisoned persons who are discharged
Administrative Review and Risk Management Division (ARRM)
If you have Complaints concerning the grievance process you can direct them to the administrator of the 'Offender Grievance Program'. The address is: ARRM Division, Administrator, PO Box 99, Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
This address is good to complain about actions of grievance officers such as not following procedure, timelines or refusing to accept a grievance. If you're writing about a specific grievance, make sure to send them the grievance processing number. If you want to complain about the denial of a Step 2, you can write ARRM and respectfully request for them to reconsider or review its denial. Then explain why.
Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook
The essential handbook regarding your rights in prison and a step by step guide on filing a lawsuit against prison officials. It can be downloaded by a friend/family from: www.jailhouselaw.org or you can request a copy by writing: The Center for Constitutional Rights, RE: Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, 666 Broadway 7th floor, New York, NY 10012
The US Department of Justice
The US Dept of Justice (DOJ) is a Federal agency that is collecting evidence for their investigation against TDCJ for violating prisoners' constitutional rights. We can help them by sending our Step 1 and 2 grievances with a witness statement. You need to make sure that you put their case number for this investigation at the top of every page that you send them. The case number is 168-74-0. You can seal the envelope because it is official legal mail, this way the prison authorities can not find out what you have written. You need at least one forever stamp for every 6 sheets of paper. You can write a "witness statement" (in letter form if needed) stating the injustices you have witnessed while being locked up. Also explain how this affects ALL Texas prisoners or what you have witnessed is happening to all Texas prisoners. This is an important point to emphasize because the DOJ needs to prove that Texas has a systematic "pattern or practice" of the deprivation of Constitutional rights that violates all Texas prisoners to "have the authority to initiate civil actions against state officials to remedy the unlawful conditions." Make sure you provide your full name, TDCJ No, and unit. State that you would like to see a Federal investigation conducted into Texa$ prisons constitutional violations of prisoner rights. Sign it and put a date.
Note: you can not get in trouble for writing the DOJ. Remember, you MUST put the case number (168-74-0) on the top of every page you send them, and seal it.
Appropriate topics for witness statements can be:
Goodtime as a fraudulent and meaningless system
Grievance system a deception of lies
Unjust practices of the disciplinary system
No payment for Texas prisoners who work
Deficient law library and denial of access to courts
Misuse of force by officers
Medical ignoring complaints of health issues
Guard harassment and retaliation
Send witness statements and grievances to: US Attorney General, US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20530.
More info: www.justice.gov/crt/about/spl
If you can't get an issue resolved or need to put some pressure on the system, it is very helpful to get help from the outside (friends, family, media and advocates). It helps to remind the authorities to remain honest and stop abusing us in any form.
Get people from the outside to write letters or make followup calls to the Warden or Regional Director to find out if an issues has been resolved, and if not, why.
Here are a few contacts that either you or your outside help can contact to put pressure on the system:
TDCJ Ombudsman: 936-437-6791 [email protected]
TDCJ Executive Director, PO Box 99, Huntsville TX 77342, 936-437-8035 [email protected]
Texas Senator John Whitmire, Capital Station, PO Box 12068, Austin TX 78711, 512-463-0115
Central Grievance Office, PO Box 3629, Austin, TX 78764-3629
Inmate Assistance League, 6804 E Hwy 6 South, Ste 202, Houston TX 77083 (Advocates)
Concerned Christians, PO Box 101094, San Antonio TX 78201
Con Care Services: 10124 Champa Dr, Dallas TX 75218-1704, 214-348-0293 (Advocates)
Texas CURE, PO Box 38381, Dallas TX 75238-0381
Office of the Governor, PO Box 12428, Austin TX 78711-2428, 512-463-2000
San Antonio Express, PO Box 2171, San Antonio TX 78297
Austin American Statesman, Attn: Mike Ward, Investigative Reporter, PO Box 670, Austin TX 78767
Houston Chronicle, PO Box 4260, Houston TX 77210
Dallas Morning News, 508 Young St, Dallas TX 75202
Loredo Morning Times, PO Box 2129, Loredo TX 78044
Corpus Christi Caller-Times, PO Box 9136, Corpus Christi, TX 78469
The New York Times, 620 Eighth Ave, New York, NY 10018-1405
USA Today, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean VA 22108
PD-22 General Rules of Conduct for TDCJ Employees
These are the rules the guards can be written up for by their rank. Sometimes it is helpful to include these rule violations in your grievance. A full copy can be found at your law library or can be downloaded from www.tdcj.state.tx.us.
Rule 3: Sleeping on Duty
8: Failure to follow proper safety procedures
10: Falsification of records (also a violation of Texas Penal Code §37.09 and 37.10)
11: Unauthorized taking or use of personal property
13: Failure to obey a proper order from an authority
14a: Use of profane/abusive language/gestures (violation of Texas Penal Code §39.04)
14b: Use of slurs/hostile epithets (TX Penal Code §39.04)
17: Reporting to work under the influence of alcohol or drugs
19: Use of alcohol or illicit drugs on the job
20: Violation of statutory authority/court order/rules/regulations/policies (TX Penal Code §39.04)
22b: Harassing or retaliating for participating in an official investigation/inquiry or for pursuing legal activities (i.e. petitioning the courts) (TX Penal Code §36.06)
23: Mistreatment of offenders - mistreatment usually takes the form of physical abuse but it may also include, but not be limited to, such actions as threats or unauthorized/illegal denial of privileges or entitlements. (TX Penal Code §39.04)
24: Use of excessive/unnecessary force.(TX Penal Code §22.01)
27: Failure to turn in all evidence seized (TX Penal Code §37.09)
28: Improper or untidy uniform (including not wearing name tag)
32: Destroying evidence or giving false testimony/information. (TX Penal Code §37.09)
33: Release of information - a TDCJ employee is not allowed to release any information relating to employees or offenders (TX Penal Code §39.04)
34: Accepting goods, money, services or favors (TX Penal Code §36.02)
41: Denial of uniform access to courts (also see BP 03-81) - unauthorized denial of legal visits or access to legal materials, harassing or retaliation against an offender for exercising the offender's right to file a grievance or complaint, not giving a grievance once one is requested, not allowing an offender to correspond with the courts or public officials (TX Penal Code §39.04)
44: Tampering with a witness (TX Penal Code §36.05)
50: Discourteous conduct of a sexual nature
Note: When a guard or prison official violates a penal code you can file a sworn complaint to the District Attorney of that county and press criminal charges (requisites of complaint - TX Code Crim Proc Art 15.05). Make sure you read the violated penal code to ensure you list all the necessary elements to establish probable cause for an arrest warrant. As the victim of that crime you have all the rights set out in TX Code Crim. Proc. Art 56.01 and you are entitled to utilize the Victims Assistance Coordinator to enforce those rights (Art 56.04). When guards realize that the law of the state also applies within the confines of this razor wire they may think twice before acting illegally and violating our rights.
Other TDCJ Policy of Interest
AD 3-22 Offender Searches
AD 3-29 Procedure to be followed in cases of offender death
AD 3-31 Procedures relating to unit lockdowns
AD 3-40 Out-of-cell time for general population offenders
ED 2-01 TDCJ ethics policy (great for a laugh)
BP 3-46 Standards for the use of force
AD 3-50 Ad Seg
AD 3-53 Solitary confinement
AD 3-70 Cell restriction for general population offenders
AD 3-72 Offender property
AD 3-76 Offender disciplinary procedures
BP 3-77 Offender grievances
BP 3-81 Access to the courts, counsel and public officials rules
AD 3-82 Management of offender grievances
AD 3-83 Offenders who refuse to comply with grooming standards
BP 3-91 Uniform offender correspondence rules
AD 4-18 Offender jobs assignments, job descriptions, etc.
AD 4-35 Review of offender disciplinary action
AD 4-80 Good conduct time
AD 4-83 Time credit dispute resolution
AD 5-25 Menus and diets
AD 6-08 Medical co-pay (also see Gov Code § 501-063)
ED 7-29 Religious policy statement
AD 7-30 Procedures for religious programming
AD 7-33 Recreation
AD 7-40 Offender organizations
ED 10-61 TDCJ Safety policy
AD 14-09 Postage and correspondence rules
AD 14-62 Guidelines for handling offender funds, accounts and transactions
This guide is only the first step. We hope that it gives you the tools to put resistance into action. Remember: Each one, teach one. It is your duty to pass this info on to others. United in struggle - united we Fight The System.
Disclaimer: This information is for general information purposes only, and is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. It is not legal advice. Legal advice involves the application of legal knowledge and skill by a licensed attorney to your specific circumstances. If at all possible, always talk to a lawyer before filing a lawsuit. To find a lawyer near you, call 1-800-252-9690.