U.$. Supreme Court: No grievance forms? No problem.
I'm writing in response to an article in ULK 58, "Illinois Budget Doesn't Include Due Process." The Illinois prisoner states he cannot get a grievance form from staff. The U.S. Supreme Court has addressed this issue in Ross v. Blake 136 S.Ct. 1850 (2016) which states "An inmate need exhaust only such administrative remedies as are available," as stated in the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The Supreme Court named three cases where this might be true:
- "an administrative procedure is unavailable when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end — with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates."
- "an administrative scheme might be so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use. In this situation, some mechanism exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate it."
- "the same is true when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation."
When grievance forms are not provided, prisoners need to use any available paper and write the grievance, clearly titling the form "Grievance" and explain why no official grievance form was used. Staff will either accept it or reject it. If it is rejected, get it in writing if possible. If not possible, document the date, time, location and the person rejecting the form. Include this info and/or rejection letter with the legal suit. The courts will accept this the majority of the time. If not, appeal and reference Ross vs. Blake from the US Supreme Court.
MIM(Prisons) responds: This is a helpful citation for reference since we know many prisons offer virtually useless grievance systems. This Supreme Court opinion should help some take their appeals beyond the non-existent appeals processes in their prisons. We are also adding this information to the cover letter that comes with petitions demanding our grievances be addressed, which we mail to prisoners upon request.
This grievance campaign is just one piece of the larger battle to demand basic rights for the millions of people locked up in jails and prisons in the United $tates. And these demands for basic rights need to be connected to the larger struggle against the criminal injustice system as a whole. While we might win individual battles in some cases, we will never stop the injustice until we put an end to the system. This is because prisons under imperialism aren't built to rehabilitate or reeducate people, they are built as a tool of social control. And so oppression of prisoners, and denial of their rights, is just part of the system.
We urge everyone interested in fighting to get grievances addressed to join our campaign, and use it to educate others about the injustice system. Mobilize people to do something, even if it's just mailing out a few petitions. And help them make the connections between this battle and the reason for the conditions they are fighting. Through this campaign we can build and educate for the larger fight against the imperialist system.