Prisoners Unite Against Suppression of VA DOC Grievance Procedure
"This operating procedure provides an administrative process for resolving offender issues and complaints through fair, prompt decisions and actions in response to complaints and grievances from offenders incarcerated in Department of Corrections institutions."
These are the clever introductory words of Virginia Department of Corrections (VA DOC) Operating Procedure 866.1 governing "Offender Grievance Procedure." While offenders — captives — suppose to enjoy non-repressive rights to utilize the grievance procedure, captives have experienced for many years repressed rights by the Department's Human Rights Advocates (commonly called Institutional and Regional Ombudsman) and administrative personnel. The VA DOC is at odds over effective administrative application of the captive/offender grievance procedure.
Since my incarceration in 1993, the captive/offender grievance procedure has always been a medium, used by captives, to receive redress for their issues and problems. The Institutional Ombudsman, once upon a time, investigated captives' issues/problems with proper handling, meaning they would speak to both the captive and staff before rendering a decision. Ombudsman would render decisions reasonably, appropriately — even if it was to the neglect of the system. After all, that's the job of the Human Rights Advocate.
Over the years, the captives have grown to understand completion of Offender Grievance Procedure is the first step to satisfying the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA Federal statute). Before the legal court system will entertain captive lawsuits, the first level one must meet is exhausting all available administrative remedies. With this understanding, VA DOC Institutional and Regional Ombudsman began seeing a rise in filed complaints and grievances, and civil lawsuits (42 U.S.C. 1983). A conspiratorial plan was hatched by the department to suppress captives' grievance procedure and opportunities. Something had to be done. VA DOC was being held liable, costing thousands of dollars.
The first step in repressing and suppressing the captive grievance procedure was that many prisons and institutions removed captives' complaint forms and level 1 grievance forms from availability. This means, in order for captives to receive said forms, they must make requests to officer/building sergeants. Captives must divest their issues/problems to authorities. If the officer or sergeant disagrees with your issues or problems, they refuse to give you needed forms. When they do give you forms, it's usually because the issue/problem is not really a threat. Captives are left with suppressed and repressed grievance rights, by the same system that swore to uphold these rights.
Once a captive completes the informal complaint process, an administrative grievance can be filed. With next-level repression, the Ombudsman uses fraudulent claims to deny grievances; such reasons as: time barred, inquiring on behalf of other "captives," not enough information, and in some cases stating "If you're not satisfied with response file to next level — regional ombudsman." (Some complaints/grievances are not returned.) These alleged claims are used by the institutional ombudsman to deny grievances, not logging grievances, or otherwise repress the process. Regional Ombudsman, being the last level of grievance process, usually side with Institutional Ombudsman.
Captives who file complaints/grievances, at times, are faced with reprisals. These reprisals, although forbidden by Operating Procedure 866.1, are usually felt in not receiving jobs, non-favorable housing, denied transfers, and more. Captives face extreme difficulties seeking to prove they are experiencing reprisal, due to filing complaints/grievances. Often times, captives who file these documents are labeled "paper-pushers," and the new term, "paper terrorist.=" (yeah, such a machination by the oppressors).
VA DOC has created a crafty method to suppress, and repress captives' grievance procedure and right. This is reflected in the number of Level 1 and Level 2 grievances "found" versus those "unfounded." Even when the evidence submitted favors the captive's claims, the grievance is still returned "unfounded." The Ombudsman no longer advocates on behalf of the captives, nor upholds the integrity of the grievance policy.
In entertaining plans to file civil litigation (§42 U.S.C. 1883 claims of civil rights violation) one must have satisfied §42 U.S.C. 1997(e)(a) which states "no action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions... by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." With continuous suppression of captives' grievance procedural rights, this satisfaction will prove to be difficult. These measures are used by the oppressive system to derail, suppress, or otherwise hinder captives' ability to satisfy §42 U.S.C. 1997 (e)(a), and PLRA, and have any legal litigation dismissed for not exhausting all available administrative remedies.
In a recent lawsuit (§42 U.S.C 1983) I filed against a VA DOC prison, and its Director Harold Clarke, alleging Civil Rights violations. I was advised by United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Plaintiff has no constitutional right to participate in grievance procedure - citing Adam v. Rice §40 F. 3d. 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994) - because plaintiff enjoys no constitutional right to participate in grievance procedure his allegation that his grievances were improperly processed are legally frivolous - citing Banks v. Nagle. Nos. 3:09 CV419-HEH; 3:09 CV14 (2009) WL1209031, at *3 (E.D.VA. May 1, 2009)." Moreover, simply, "ruling against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does not cause or contribute to the [constitutional] violation, see George v. Smith 507 F. 3d. 605, 609-10 (7th Cir 2007)" I alleged in my First Amendment violation claim: Ombudsman at this prison suppressed, obstructed or otherwise denied me fundamental (and meaningful) access to "offender grievance procedure" due to refusal to properly process and answer said grievances. It was, and remains a continuous practice, within VA DOC, to deny "redress to government," in this case, the prison authorities who are agents of the state.
It appears the U.S. District Court has shifted their views and opinions as to whether captives have a constitutional right to grievance procedure. On one hand, the Federal statute §42 U.S.C. 1997 (e)(a) states we have to satisfy the prongs of the PLRA, which requires the exhaustion of all available administrative remedies, before filing a §42 U.S.C. 1983. But then, restrict such requirement in decisions rendered in Adam v. Rice and Banks v. Nagle, which contradicts mandates of §42 U.S.C. 1997(e)(a).
Without protected due process rights, whether in society or behind these walls of horror, the people are in trouble. Captives have seen a consistent erosion of rights, or a limiting of such rights, over the years; from the Anti-Terrorist and Effective Death Penalty Act, of former President Bill Clinton, to the Patriot Act of George W. Bush. High courts have repeatedly sided with state prison administrators, citing "security takes precedence over certain rights, including infringement upon certain civil rights." This could very well open the door for the pigs to get away with vicious assaults, property damages, and other egregious acts that goes on behind these walls. The highway for "organized crime" is without patrols.
Captives are subjected to a wide range of issues and administrative confrontation, leading to needed remedies. Though, each "department of correction" professes administrative remedy outlets, captives' rights to utilize these administrative outlets continues to be repressed, ineffective, leaving issues unsolved. These create an environment of mistrust, instability and an ethos of disorganization between captives and "the system."
Captives here at this VA DOC prison have organized around the "United Front" and "United Front for Peace in Prison - Statement of Principles." We have organized, mobilized, and deputized. We've organized to the point where we have a ten point agenda, designed to address our oppression and oppressor in an organized and systematic way. We wish to accept full responsibility for our actions, educate ourselves in seeking justice, and assure that we remain at peace, on what we've agreed upon, and united around our collective agenda.
We wish to join on to and with MIM(Prisons)'s campaign "We Demand our Grievances are Addressed." Please send us the petition! ASAP we will work to assure this petition is signed by as many we can from behind these walls. We will continue to educate ourselves towards the process, and our rights under Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act.
Let's stop the repression of the grievance procedure within the VA DOC. We stand with MIM(Prisons)!
MIM(Prisons) responds: This comrade and others in Virginia have been doing some great organizing work, building the United Front for Peace in Prisons, local study groups, and fighting the corrupt grievance process in that state's prisons. We look forward to the progress of this campaign as a part of building a broad base of united prisoners in Virginia fighting the criminal injustice system under anti-imperialist leadership.