Prisoner Abuse Claims

Texas Prisoner Abuse Litigation Guidelines

If TDCJ will not help you, you have the right to file a lawsuit. Because of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), you must file grievances before you can file a lawsuit. A court may dismiss your case, no matter how bad your problem is, if you have not tried to go through the grievance process first (including Step 2). If you think you might ever want to file a lawsuit, you must got through the entire grievance process (including Step 2). You must ask for everything you believe TDCJ should do to make up for what happened to you, even if you do not think the process will work.

It is not easy to file a lawsuit, and it is very hard to win. Before filing a lawsuit, you should always try to contact a lawyer. There are very few lawyers in Texas who help prisoners, but it is important to try to get help before going to court by yourself. Remember, however, most civil claims in Texas must be brought within 2 years of the incident. If you are close to running out of time to file your suit, it is better to file without a lawyer to make sure your case will not be dismissed because it was filed too late. Also, many problems are too small to be worth a lawsuit, even when they involve something very important to you.

FILING A LAWSUIT FOR VIOLATIONS OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS
Congress passed a law in 1871 called “Section 1983” It protects your constitutional rights. Section 1983 lets you file a lawsuit in federal court when our rights are violated. The law library has forms that will help you file a Section 1983 lawsuit.

Section 1983 lets you bring a lawsuit against people who violate your rights. TDCJ is not a “person,” so you cannot sue TDCJ directly. If you try to sue TDCJ directly, your case will probably be dismissed. State entitles TDCJ cannot be sued most of the time. If a TDCJ employee has mistreated you, you need to sue that employee personally, not TDCJ.

There is an exception to this general rule. If you are seeking an injunction you can sue TDCJ’s executive director in his or her “official capacity.” An “injunction” means a change to a prison policy or how the prison operates. An injunction does not include money. If you want both an injunction and money, you can sue the individual employees “in their individual capacities” for money, and the executive director of TDCJ in his or her “official capacity” for an injunction.

In the United States, we have two court systems – state courts and federal courts. You can file a lawsuit for violations of your constitutional rights in state or federal court. If you file in state court, and only complain about violations of your federal rights, the defendants will have the option to move your case to federal court. If you only have complaints about violations of state law, you can only file your case in state court.

PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT
If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit, you should know about a 1996 law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PLRA makes it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits in federal court. Texas has a similar law that makes it hard for TDCJ prisoners to file cases in state court. The PLRA contains many parts, but the following parts are the most important.

“Exhaustion of administrative remedies” (42 U.S.C. § 1997e (a))

The first thing to remember about the PLRA is before you file a lawsuit, you must try to resolve your complaint through the prison’s grievance system. If your Step 1 grievance is denied, you must file a Step 2 grievance. If you file a lawsuit before taking your complaints through every step of the grievance system, it will almost certainly be dismissed. (This manual explains how to file a grievance above. Consult your TDCJ Offender Handbook for more information about how to file a grievance.)

A. What is “exhaustion”?
“Exhausting your remedies” means filing a grievance and all available appeals. You must mention every problem you want to raise in your lawsuit in your grievance first. However, if you cannot file your grievance for some reason beyond your control, no administrative remedy is “available,” and you may file in court. Even if you have a good excuse for not filing your grievance properly, you should still do your best to go through Step 1 and Step 2 in the grievance process. If staff fail to respond to your grievance within the time limits, you still must appeal to the next stage. If you do not receive a response to your Step 2 grievance, you can file a lawsuit.

You must also file your Step 1 and Step 2 grievances during the time required by TDCJ. Your Step 1 grievance must be filed within 15 days of the even you are complaining about. The Step 2 grievance must be filed within 15 days of when you receive a response to the Step 1.

There is an exception to the file if prison staff tell you that you cannot file a grievance or cannot appeal.

Courts disagree when you have an excuse for not using the grievance system. The safest course is always to file a Step 1 AND Step 2 for each claim you want to raise and each defendant you want to name in your eventual lawsuit. Do your best to follow the TDCJ grievance policy. (A copy of the policy should be available in the law library.)

Once you get a response to the Step 2, or the time for TDCJ to respond to the Step 2 expires, you can file a lawsuit.

B. What happens if you don’t exhaust the grievance process?
If you do not exhaust your grievances, the defendants can ask the court to dismiss your case. The defendants have to show the court evidence you did not file the proper grievances. You will have an opportunity to show the court what you did to try and complete the grievance system. If the court finds you did not properly file grievances, the case will most likely be dismissed without prejudice. “Without prejudice” means you can try to file the lawsuit again after you complete the grievance system, if it has not been too long since the event you are complaining about happened.

You can lose your claim if you miss a grievance deadline. If this happened to you, appeal through all the levels of the grievance system and explain in the grievance why you did not file on time.

Finally, if the deadline for filing your case (the “statute of limitations”) comes while you are going through the grievance system, you can still file your lawsuit. The statutes of limitations are suspended while you go through the grievance process. If this happens to you, file your lawsuit as soon as you get a response to the Step 2 of the time for a response runs out.

C. There are very few exceptions to the exhaustion requirement.
If you want money for your claims, you still must go through the grievance process. TDCJ will not give you money by filing a grievance, but you are still required to go through the process before you file a lawsuit.

Speaking to staff, putting in a kite or I-60m or writing to the warden are not the same as filing a grievance. They do not count under the PLRA. You must use the grievance system.

Some courts may get involved to prevent serious injury while you finish the grievance process. Even if you file the lawsuit to prevent a serious injury, you should still complete the grievance process.

Filing fees (28 U.S.C. § 1915(b))
The second point to remember about the PLRA is prisoners must pay court filing fees in full. In 2009, the filing fee in federal court was $350. If you don’t not have the money up front, you can pay the filing fee over time through monthly withdrawals from your prison commissary account. Indigent prisoners paying the filing fee in monthly withdrawals pay an initial fee of 20% of the greater of the prisoner’s average balance or the average deposits to the account for the preceding six months. After the initial payment, you pay monthly installments of 20% of money coming into the account in the previous month until the fee has been paid in full.

Three strikes provision (28 U.S.C. § 1915(g))
The third point to remember about the PLRA is it can prevent you from filing more lawsuits. If a court finds you have filed three “frivolous” lawsuits, you cannot file any more lawsuits without paying the full filing fee up front. “Frivolous” means a problem is not serious, or the law does not support your claim. Each lawsuit or appeal you file that is dismissed because it is frivolous, malicious, or does not state a proper claim counts as a “strike.” After you get three “strikes,” you cannot file another lawsuit without paying the full filing fee up front.

The “three strikes” rule is another reason it is important to only take serious issues to court. If you have filed three “frivolous” lawsuits, and cannot pay a filing fee, you may not be able to file a lawsuit when you have a serious problem.

If you appeal after your case is dismissed, and the appeal is also dismissed as frivolous, the appeal counts as a separate strike. Even old lawsuits from before the PLRA passed count as strikes.

The only exceptions to the “three strikes” rule is if you are in immediate danger of serious physical injury. A court looks at the “imminent danger” at the time you attempt to file the lawsuit, not at the time of the incident that lead to the lawsuit. In other words, if you are no longer in “imminent danger” when you file the lawsuit or appeal, you will have to pay the full filing fee up front.

Physical injury requirement (42 U.S.C. § 1997e (e))
The fourth point to remember about the PLRA is that unless you have a physical injury, you cannot file a lawsuit for mental pain.

The physical injury requirements only applies to claims for money damages. It does not apply to claims to change how TDCJ operates. Courts are split on whatever a violation of constitutional rights is always a claim for mental injury even there is no physical injury. The courts disagree about what when a prisoner has been harmed enough to court as a “physical injury.”

MEDICAL CARE
There are two ways you can challenge poor prison medical care. First, as a prisoner, you have a right to receive medical care from the prison system. This right is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Second, “medical malpractice” law protects you from receiving poor quality medical care. Even someone who has never been in prison can bring a medical malpractice claim if their doctor treats them incorrectly.

Both constitutional lawsuits and medical malpractice lawsuits are very hard to win. You should know how difficult these claims are before investing time and effort.

A. Constitutional Claims.
The Eighth Amendment requires prison officials to provide you with medical care. This requirement includes mental health and dental care. “Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners constitutes the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain proscribed by the Eighth Amendment.”

To win a constitutional claim for poor medical care, you must show prison officials were “deliberately indifferent” to your serious medical needs. First you need to show officials knew about your condition. Second you need to show they ignored a substantial risk of serious harm to your health. A medical need is considered “serious” if it causes pain, discomfort, or threat to good health. It is very hard to show prison medical staff is “deliberately indifferent” to your health if you are receiving medical treatment. “[C]ourts have found that just because a prisoner does not agree that the medical care offered is appropriate, this is not enough to suffice for a claim of deliberate indifference to serious medical needs. Norton v. Dimazana, 122 F. 3d 286, 292 (5th Cir. 1997) (citing Young v. Gray, 560 F. 2d 201, 201 (5th Cir. 1977). It is not enough that the diagnosis is incorrect. Domino v. Tex. Dep’t of Criminal Justice, 239 F. 3d 752, 756 (5th Cir. 2001). The prisoner must instead establish that officials “refused to treat him, ignored his complaints, intentionally treated him incorrectly, or engaged in any similar conduct that would clearly evince a wanton disregard for any serious medical needs.” Johnson v. Treen, 759 F. 2d 1236, 1238 (5th Cir. 1985). Indeed, courts have found that evidence of medical exams, sick calls, and diagnosis have been used to rebut a claim of deliberate indifference. See, e.g., Sexton v. Young, No. 07-0088, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25147, at *3-4 (W.D. La. Mar. 12, 2007)

Under this standard, your rights have not been violated if the treatment you are getting does not work. Your rights have not been violated if you disagree with the treatment your doctor gives you. Even if a free world doctor gave you different treatment than a prison doctor, that may not be enough to prove your constitutional rights have been violated.

Evidence of “deliberate indifference” includes sick call requests for medical attention that were not answered, records showing date(s) you requested medical attention, to whom the request(s) were submitted, the medical conditions complained of, the effects of any delay in obtaining access to medical staff, the date(s) access was provided, specific medical staff seen, treatment provided by particular staff, the follow-up care ordered and whether it was carried out, additional information to indicate the adequacy of treatment, and complaints and formal grievances filed regarding inadequate care. You should try to get copies of medical records to show the court.

You can show prison officials knowledge of risks of your health from “the very fact that the risk was obvious.” If a prison official could see your health is getting worse this can show they knew about your condition. You should tell the court if you have significant weight loss, seizures, asthma attacks, or other problems that are obvious. A prison official cannot “escape liability if the evidence showed that he merely refused to verify underlying facts that he strongly suspected to be true, or declined to confirm inferences of risk that he strongly suspected to exist.”

Though it is not required, you will almost always need an expert witness to testify for you in a case like this. An “expert witness” is a doctor who can testify about the care you received. The law does not require you have an expert, but you will probably need one to convince the court you were denied care. This expert can be the doctor who is treating you, or it can be an independent doctor who agrees to help you. Independent doctors are hard for a prisoner to find and will almost always be expensive.

B. Medical Malpractice
You can also sue medical staff for providing you incorrect care. If you have been treated by medical staff in prison, but you are being treated incorrectly, you can sue the doctor for medical malpractice.

“Medical malpractice” is not a claim based on the constitution. It comes from medical staff’s duty to provide treatment from a set standard of care. If medical staff provide you care below the standard of care, you may be able to sue them for malpractice. Malpractice may be a better option for you if you have received medical treatment, but that treatment did not work or was incorrect.

In Texas, it is very hard to win a medical malpractice lawsuit. There are several special rules you have to follow to bring a successful medical malpractice case. You will almost certainly need an expert witness. An “expert witness” is another doctor who can testify about the care you got. You will have to give the medical staff you are suing a copy of a report from the expert no later than 120 days after you file your lawsuit. Also, if you do not also bring federal constitutional claims, you will have to file your medical malpractice case in state court. It is very important to try to talk to a lawyer before these cases.

C. Requesting Medical Care from TDCJ
Because it is very hard to win a lawsuit requesting medical care, it may be best for you to ask for help through TDCJ’s policies. If you need to be seen by a doctor or nurse, you can request treatment by following the steps below.
• Place a sick call – complete a sick call form, clearly describing what your medical problem is. You do not need to use legal jargon like “deliberate indifference” – just tell the medical staff what your problem is and why you want to be seen. Sick call forms are available on your housing unit.

TDCJ policy requires all sick calls be answered within 48 hours. If you have not received an answer within 48 hours, proceed to the next step. See Correctional Managed Care Policy 38.1.

• Make an I-60 request – if you are not seen after placing a sick call, complete an I-60 requesting medical care. An I-60 is a request to prison officials, and the form is available on your housing unit. Clearly describe the problem, and state you have already completed a sick call. Tell the person who will the I-60 that you want to be seen by medical staff. Again there is no need to use legal jargon.

• Contact TDCJ Health Services directly – The Health Services Division’s Office of Professional Standards investigates prisoners’ complaints about health care. Their address is:

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Health Services Division
3009-A HWY 30 West
Huntsville, Texas 77340-0769

If you have a friend or family member in the free world, they can call Health Services directly at (936) 437-4271. Health Services may require you to sign a medical release before they can talk with your friends or family. This is to protect your medical privacy. You can get the release form from the medical department on your unit. (The form needs to be renewed and updated every six months.)

A friend or family member can also contact the TDCJ Ombudsman at (936) 437- 6791. The Ombudsman will also likely require your family to have a medical release to protect your privacy.

Make sure to document each of the above steps by saving copies of the forms or writing in a diary when you made the requests. If you need to file a lawsuit, this will all be evidence of “deliberate indifference.”

If you can afford to be seen by a free world doctor, you have a right to have one evaluate you. You will have to pay all the costs associated with this visit, however, and will have to find a doctor willing to come to the prison to visit you.

LEGAL RIGHTS OF DISABLED PRISONERS
Special laws protect disabled people. Two federal laws protect disabled people’s rights: the Rehabilitation Act and the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). If a program gets money from the federal government, the Rehabilitation Act applies. The ADA applies to all government programs. Texas state laws also protects disabled prisoners.

The ADA and Rehabilitation Act are the same in most ways. The major difference between the two laws is how they waive the state’s immunity from lawsuits, which is discussed below. You can use cases about the Rehabilitation Act in lawsuits brought under the ADA, and vice versa.

Definition of a Disability
The ADA and Rehabilitation Act define “disability” as:
(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities….;
(B) a record of such an impairment; or
(C) being regarded as having such an impairment.

A “physical or mental impairment” can include: hearing loss, vision problems, mental illness, physical disabilities, certain diseases, and many other conditions. “Major life activities” including seeing, hearing, breathing, working, walking and many other everyday activities.

Courts usually look at the facts of each lawsuit to decide if a person is legally disabled. Be sure to tell the court exactly what your condition is, and what things it prevents you from doing.
Enforcing Disabled Prisoners’ Legal Rights
Title II of the ADA says that:
[N]O qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of the public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.

To bring a lawsuit under the ADA and/or the Rehabilitation Act, you must show three things. First, you must be legally disabled. Second, you must qualify to participate in the program you want to enter. And third, you cannot participate in the program because of your disability. Under the Rehabilitation Act, you must also show TDCJ receives federal funding.

You will have to show the court you tried to participate in the program. Then you will have to show you were eligible for the program. You will also have to show you could not get in the program because of your disability.

What Rights Can Be Enforced?
Disabled prisoners have sued to get equal access to facilities, programs and services. Prisoners in wheelchairs have sued to use prison showers and toilets. Deaf prisoners have sued to get sign language interpreters for prison programs.

Disabled prisoners have challenged being put in isolation and segregation units. One court ruled prison officials discriminated against a prisoner in a wheelchair who could not access the dining hall, recreation area, visitation church, and the library.

Prisoners with mental illnesses who are not receiving treatment for their mental illness are also protected by the ADA and Rehabilitation Act.

Sovereign Immunity
“Sovereign immunity” is the State’s right not to be sued. The government can give up sovereign immunity by passing a law. The ADA and Rehabilitation Act give up the state’s immunity under certain conditions.

Unlike Section 1983, the ADA and Rehabilitation Act allow you to sue TDCJ directly. When you bring an ADA or Rehabilitation Act lawsuit, you do not need to sue the individual official. Your lawsuit can name TDCJ.

Congress passed the ADA, and Congress can only waive a state’s sovereign immunity in limited situations. One situation where Congress can waive a state’s immunity is to prevent the state from violating the constitution. Thus, whether the ADA waives sovereign immunity in your case will depend on to what degree your constitutional rights are also violated.

The ADA may also waive TDCJ’s sovereign immunity when the ADA would “remedy and deter violations of rights guaranteed…..by prohibiting a somewhat broader swatch of conduct, including that which is not itself forbidden by [the Constitution] text. It is only clearly established how far beyond the limits of the Constitution extend in this manner in prison.

The difference between the ADA and Rehabilitation Act is that States consent to be sued when they accept federal money from Congress under the Rehabilitation Act. If you bring your lawsuit under the Rehabilitation Act, you will not need to worry about sovereign immunity if you can prove TDCJ accepts federal money.

LIFE ENDANGERMENT
Prisons must protect prisoners from other inmates. Prison officials, however, are not responsible every time a prisoner is injured by a fellow inmate.

Prison guards cannot use excessive force against prisoners. But a prison official’s use of force usually does not violate the Constitution.

Protection from Prisoner Assault
Prison officials violate the constitution when they are “deliberately indifference” to a prisoner’s safety. You will need to show two things. You will need to show prison officials knew you were at substantial risk of serious harm. You will also need to show the prison officials ignored that risk.

Even if you are harmed after you tell prison officials about a risk, you rights are not violated if they responded reasonably to the risk. There are two ways to try to show your rights have been violated if you have been assaulted. One is showing prison officials’ did not act reasonably after learning about a specific threat. The other is when prison conditions create a dangerous situation for a prisoners in general. Sometimes both ways may work at the same time.

You must also show a connection between what prison officials did or failed to do and the harm that occurred. Thus, courts have imposed liability on guards who observed an assault or knew of a risk to a prisoner, but did nothing; or on supervisors who made or failed to make policies, or failed to act on risks they knew about. Courts will require you to show each defendant is personally responsible for causing the assault.

Use of Force by Prison Staff
Prison staff violate the Eighth Amendment when they use force “for the very purpose of causing harm.” They can use force “in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline.” An inmate must show the force used was not required to manage the prison, or was completely out of proportion to that need. Whether a court will find force excessive depends heavily on the facts of the case. Generally, the force used by prison staff must be more than “de minimis” (very small or insignificant) to violate the Eighth Amendment. Courts disagree on how much force is de minimis.

In some cases, prison staff can use serious and even deadly force. You do not need to show a serious or permanent injury, however, to who your rights were violated. The seriousness of the injury is just one factor to consider.

RELIGIOUS RIGHTS OF PRISONERS
The Constitution protects your right to have religious beliefs. But it only protects “sincerely held” beliefs. Courts often disagree about what qualifies as a religion.

Christianity, Islam and Judaism, are always understood to be religious. Less well-known faiths have less success in the courts. Rastafarian, Native American religions, and various Eastern religions are sometimes protected. Other religions have even less success. While the Supreme Court has never defined the term “religion,” lower courts have asked whether a belief system addresses “fundamental and ultimate questions,” is “comprehensive in nature,” and presents “certain formal and external signs.”

You must also convince a court your belief is sincerely held. Courts will look to how long you have believed something and how consistently you follow your beliefs. Just because you haven’t believed something your whole life doesn’t automatically mean that a court will find you are insincere. But if you have recently converted you will probably have a harder time convincing a court that you are sincere.

You have an absolute right to believe anything you want. You do not, however, always have a constitutional right to do things just because of your religious beliefs. The Constitution does not excuse anyone from complying with a “neutral” rule (one not intended to restrict religion) of “general applicability” (one that applies to everyone in the same way). Just because a rule only applies to prisoners does not mean it is not generally applicable. But a rule that applies only to a religious group, is not generally applicable.

Prison officials may restrict inmates’ religious practices if the restrictions are important to managing the prison. Courts defer to prisons under this standard. You may have success if you can show some religions are treated more favorably than others.

Congress passed The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act in 2000 (RLUIPA). RLUIPA says prison rules cannot substantially burden your religion unless there is a compelling reason for the rule. The rule must also be the least restrictive means of achieving its purpose. RLUIPA is to be read broadly to protect religious exercise. Some prisoners have had success in requiring TDCJ to change policies under RLUIPA.

Texas state law also protects your right to practice your religion. The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act has the same protections as RLUIPA.

EXCESSIVE HEAT/COLD
Excessive heat (or cold) may violate the Constitution. You will have to show three things. First, prison officials must be aware of the heat. Second, the heat must be a substantial risk to your health. Third, the prison must not do anything to fix the problem.

When have courts found excessive heart violates the Eighth Amendment?
When the heat index is over 90 degrees for long periods prison conditions may violate the Constitution. But a complaint that the temperature was “well above” or “well below” room temperature is not a constitutional violation.

Cases dealing with excessively cold conditions may help make an argument about excessive heat. “Prisoners have a right to protection from extreme cold.” A prison that did not provide blankets despite low temperatures would violate the Eighth Amendment.

EXPOSURE TO ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS OR TOXIC MATERIALS
What rights do prisoners have?
Exposing prisoners to dangerous conditions or poisons may violate the Constitution. Prison officials violate the Constitution when they knowingly expose a prisoner to a condition that poses an unreasonable risk of serious damage to that prisoner’s health. Prison officials must know of and disregard a substantial risk of serious harm to the prisoner’s health. This violates the Eighth Amendment because it amounts to “unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain contrary to contemporary standards of decency.”

What types of conditions violate the Eighth Amendment?
Allegations of polluted water and exposure to toxic fumes have both been held to state an Eighth Amendment claim. Prison officials cannot expose prisoners to sewage or human waste for significant periods of time. Exposure to materials that cause cancer has also been held to violate the Eighth Amendment. Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke may violate the Eighth Amendment as well.

Courts have held that exposure to asbestos can constitute deliberate indifference to prisoners’ medical needs. However, at least one court has held that exposure to “moderate levels of asbestos” did not violate the Eighth Amendment.

What types of conditions have not been held to violate the Eighth Amendment?
Some courts have suggested dangerous conditions do not violate the Constitution if workers in the surround community work in the same conditions. For example, requiring a prisoner to work in heavy corn dust without a mask, causing nosebleeds, hair loss, and sores on his face, did not violate the Eighth Amendment unless “the practice clearly differed from that or the surround agriculture community or violated a clearly established law.” Similarly, exposure to a pesticide did not violate the Eighth Amendment when the expose was not any different from practices in the surrounding agriculture community.

Are prisons required to comply with free-world environmental regulations?
The Constitution does not require prisons to comply with all civilian environmental regulations. However, these regulations may be enforced by various government agencies, and a prisoner may be able to use these regulations to argue that they are evidence to contemporary standards of decency.

If you have a case involving dangerous conditions or toxic substances, it may be helpful to complain to state or local health departments, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), or other relevant agencies. State or local regulations may be enforceable in state courts.

DISCIPLINARY SANCTIONS
Prisoners may challenge disciplinary sanctions imposed on them under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects against deprivation of life, liberty or property by the state “without due process of law.” Procedural due process is examined in two steps: (1) first you look at whether an existing liberty or property interest has been interfered with; and then (2) whether the procedures that interfered with your liberty or property interest were constitutionally sufficient.

Do you have a liberty or property interest sufficient to require due process?
Under Sandin v. Conner, prisoners do not have a protected liberty interest in their conditions of confinement unless the conditions place an “atypical and significant hardship” on the prisoner. After Sandin, prisoners must present factual evidence that the restraint at issue creates an “atypical and significant hardship” and that a state regulation or statute grants prisoners a protected liberty interest in remaining free from the restraint. In order to meet the Sandin “atypical and significant hardship” standard, prisoners must present evidence of the actual conditions of the challenged punishment as compared to ordinary prison conditions.

In Edwards v. Balisok, the Supreme Court made it even harder to successfully challenge prison disciplinary convictions. The Court held that prisoners cannot sue for monetary damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for loss of good time until they get their disciplinary conviction set aside through the prison appeal system or in state court by filing a writ of habeas corpus.

Texas prisoners have a protected liberty interest in their earned good time credits.

If you want to challenge a disciplinary conviction in federal court, you must use a writ of habeas corpus through 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Texas courts do not hear cases challenging prison disciplinary cases. To maintain an action under § 2254, you must first exhaust state habeas remedies. In this situation only, prisoners’ state remedies are exhausted when the prisoner goes through TDCJ’s grievance procedures. The deadline for filing a writ to challenge a prison disciplinary case is one year from the disciplinary conviction.
Under the current state of the law, prisoners do not have liberty interests in a reduction in class status, or a direction that a prisoner remain at the same line class for a set period of time; custodial classification because it will not “inevitable affect the duration of his sentence;” placement in administrative segregation; loss of commissary privileges; loss of recreation privileges; temporary cell restriction; job assignments; or prison unit assignments.

Furthermore, there is no constitutional right to parole in Texas, because whether a prisoner will be released on parole is entirely at the discretion of the Board of Pardons and Parole.

Did you get due process?
The opportunity to be heard is the fundamental requirement of due process and must be granted at a meaningful time and in a meaningful manner. To satisfy due process requirements, prison disciplinary action must meet these minimum procedures: (1) the prisoner must be given advance written notice of the charges against him; (2) evidence against the prisoner must be disclosed to him; (3) the factfinders must give a written statement of the evidence relied on and the reasons for the disciplinary action; (4) the prisoner should be afforded the opportunity to be heard in person and to present witnesses and documentary evidence in his own defense as long as doing so will not jeopardize institutional safety or correctional goals; and (5) the prisoner should be given the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, unless the hearing officer specifically finds good cause for not allowing confrontation.

Because “federal courts cannot retry every prison disciplinary dispute,” the courts may act only where “arbitrary or capricious action is shown.” This means that prison disciplinary proceedings will be overturned only where there is no evidence whatsoever to support the decision of the prison officials. Sufficient support for a finding of guilty is provided by “some facts” or “any evidence at all.” A disciplinary hearing officer’s decision will satisfy the due process requirements if there is “some evidence” in the record to support the decision.

 

TEXAS PRISONERS’ CIVIL RIGHTS MANUAL

INTRODUCTION
The United States Constitution and other laws protect you, even while you are in prison.  Even though you have been convicted of a crime, you do not give up all your civil rights.  “Prisoners do not shed all constitutional rights at the prison gate.”  You have the right to receive medical care, food, clothing, water, and shelter, and to be reasonably safe while in prison.  You have the right not to be denied participation in prison programs because of a disability.  You have the right to participate in religious services and practice your religion.

You can enforce all these rights by filing a lawsuit in court.  You need to know, however, it is very difficult for a prisoner to win a lawsuit, even if you have a lawyer.  Lawsuits can also take a long time – sometimes many years.  It is always best to think about if your problem is serious enough to require a lawsuit, and to try every other way to fix your problem short of filing a lawsuit.  This chapter of the manual will help you with both options.

SOME BASIC ADVICE
If you have a problem in prison, you should first try to get help from TDCJ.  For example, you should talk to an officer or supervisor you think might listen, send I-60s or letters to officials, and write grievances.  TDCJ has control over all its prisons, and is in the best position to help you immediately.  Though you may feel TDCJ does not want to help you, it is always best to try because TDCJ can help the fastest.

TDCJ has a grievance process that lets prisoners make formal complaints.  It is important to use every step in the grievance process.  If you ever want to file a lawsuit about a problem, you will have to show the court you tried to use the grievance process first.  Even if the grievance system doesn’t seem to work, you MUST file a Step 1 AND Step 2 grievance bout your problem before you can go to court.

REASONS TO FILE A GRIEVANCE
•    If you are not safe, or your life is in danger;
•    You need medical attention;
•    You are being physically or sexually abused;
•    TDCJ policies or procedures are being violated;
•    You are being threatened by an employee or another prisoner;
•    You are being harassed or retaliated against for using the grievance process;
•    You are having trouble accessing the courts;
•    Your personal property at the prison has been lost or damaged; or
•    Basic conditions are inhumane (like the prison is too hot, too cold, or unclean).

HOW TO FILE A GRIEVANCE
There is no special way to file grievances.  You do not need to be a writ writer to write a grievance.  The best thing to do is use plain English (or whatever language you write in) to say what your problem is and what you want.  You do not need to sue any legal language.  Just write the grievance like you would explain the problem to a friend.

Before you file a grievance, you need to try “informal resolution.”  “Informal resolution” means talking to someone who works for the prison about the problem.  Sending an I-60 or letter to a prison official can also be “informal resolution.”  You will need to write on the grievance form who you talked to and what they told you.

You can get grievance forms in the law library, housing areas, or from the shift supervisor.

Follow these guidelines when you write your grievance:
•    Only write about the issue you want help with.  Each grievance can only address one problem.  If you have more than one problem, write a different grievance for each problem.
•    When you write the grievance, explain who you talked to and what they did (if anything) about your problem.
•    Be sure to file your grievance within 15 days of learning about the problem, or as soon as possible.  If you did not file the grievance within 15 days of learning about the problem, write why you did not file earlier.
•    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.”  Ask for everything you want to solve the problem in the grievance.
•    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 to the Step 1, and you have not been notified that there will be a delay, you can 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.

Thirty-five days after you filed your Step 2, unless you have been notified there will be a delay, you can take your claim to court.
•    If you want to file your lawsuit in State court, you need to file the lawsuit within 31 days of receiving a response to the Step 2 grievance.  If you want to file your lawsuit in Federal court, your deadline to file the suit is the “statute of limitations” discussed in the section on Individual Litigation.

Always keep copies of your returned grievance.  You may need them later on and it can be difficult to obtain copies.  Check your TDCJ Offender Handbook for more information about how to file a grievance.

What to do if your problem is not resolved in TDCJ:
When TDCJ employees at the unit will not solve your problem, other TDCJ offices might be able to help.  These offices handle complaints from prisoners and their friends and family.

•    For serious medical and mental health problems, send I-60s or letters to the Patient Liaison:

Patient Liaison Office
Office of Professional Standards
3009-A Hwy 30 West
Huntsville, Texas 77340
Phone:  (936) 436-1265

•    For unnecessary or excessive force, or other staff misconduct or criminal activity within TDCJ, send I-60s to the Office of the Inspector General (also known as “OIG”):

Office of the Inspector General
P.O. Box 4003
Huntsville, Texas 77342-4003

•    For problems with TDCJ’s calculation of your time or release date, send I-60s or letters to the State Counsel for Offenders:

State Counsel for Offenders
P.O. Box 4005
Huntsville, Texas 77342-4005

•    If you have been raped or sexually assaulted, or are afraid you may be, you can send a letter or I-60 to TDCJ’s Prison Rape Elimination Act Ombudsman:

Sexual Assault Ombudsman
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, Texas 77342-0099

•    Family members, friends, and outsiders (but not prisoners) may send letters to the Ombudsman.  (Family members, friends, and other outsiders also can telephone or write the other offices above.  Many prisoners feel it helps them if someone on the outside contacts TDCJ for them.)

TDCJ-ID Ombudsman
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, Texas 77342
Phone:  (936) 294-6791
Fax:  (936) 294-6325

You can use truck mail for all TDCJ offices that investigate complaints or problems including Patient Liaison, OIG (Office of the Inspector General), and State Counsel for Offenders.

 

THE PRISON LITIGATION REFORM ACT (PLRA)
If you are thinking about filing a lawsuit, then you should know about a 1996 law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which makes it harder for prisoners to file lawsuits in federal court.  There are many parts to the PLRA, but the following parts are the most important for you to understand.

EXHAUSTION OF ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES (42 U.S.C. § 1997 e (a))
The First key to remember about the PLRA is that before you file a lawsuit, you must try to resolve your complaint through the prison’s grievance procedure.  This usually requires that you give a written description of your complaint (often called a “grievance”) to a prison official.  If the prison provides a second or third step (like letting you appeal to the warden), then you must also take those steps.  If you file a lawsuit in federal court before taking your complaints through every step of your prison’s grievance procedure, it will almost certainly be dismissed.

A.  What is exhaustion?
Exhausting your remedies for the PLRA requires filing a grievance and pursuing all available administrative appeals.  [1] In addition, every claim you raise in your lawsuit must be exhausted.  [2] However, if a prisoner does not file a grievance because he is unable to obtain grievance forms, no administrative remedy is “available” and the prisoner may file in court.  [3] In a multi-step grievance system, if staff fail to respond within the time limits established in the grievance system’s rules, the prisoner must appeal to the next stage.  [4] If the prisoner does not receive a response at the final appeal level, and the time for response has passed, the prisoner has exhausted.  [5]

An exception to the requirement that all appeals be taken occurs if the prisoner cannot appeal without a decision from the lower level of the grievance system, and the lower level did not respond to the grievance.  [6]

Courts have differed widely on when failure to exhaust might be excused [7] But the safest course is always:

with respect to each claim you want to raise, and each defendant you want to name,     in your eventual lawsuit, you should file a grievance and appeal that grievance     through all available levels of appeal.

You should get a copy of your prison or jail’s grievance policy and follow it as closely as you can.

B.  What happens if you don’t exhaust the grievance process?
Most courts have held that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense that must be raised by the defendants.  [8] Then, if the court finds that the prisoner has not exhausted, the case is dismissed without prejudice, [9] meaning that the lawsuit may be filed again once the prisoner has exhausted, as long as the statute of limitations has not run.

There is not a great deal of case law yet addressing whether a prisoner who misses a deadline in the grievance process (many grievance systems have very short deadlines) forever loses his/her constitutional or statutory claim.  If you are in this situation, you should appeal through all the levels of the grievance system and explain in the grievance the reasons for the failure to file on time.  [10]

Finally, the statute of limitations is tolled while a prisoner is in the process of exhausting.  [11]

C.  There are very few exceptions to the exhaustion requirement.
Prisoners seeking to bring a damages action must exhaust available administrative remedies even if the administrative remedy in question, like almost all prison grievance systems, does not provide money damages as a possible remedy.  [12]

Other means of notifying prison officials of your complaint, such as speaking to staff, putting in a kite, or writing to the warden, do not constitute exhaustion.  You must use the grievance system.

In the only decision to address this issue, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals said that under PLRA, courts may still issue injunctions to prevent irreparable injury pending exhaustion of administrative remedies.  [13]

The exhaustion requirement does not apply to detainees in INS facilities.  [14] Also, the exhaustion requirement does not apply to cases filed before the effective date of PLRA, which is April 26, 1996.  [15]

II.  FILING FEES (28 U.S.C. § 1915(b))
The Second key to remember about the PLRA is that all prisoners must pay court filing fees in full.  If you do not have the money up front, you can pay the filing fee over time through monthly installments form your prison commissary account, but the filing fee will not be waived.

A complex statutory formula requires the indigent prisoner to pay an initial fee of 20% of the great of the prisoner’s average balance or the average deposits to the account for the preceding six months.  After the initial payment, the prisoner is to pay monthly installments of 20% of the income credited to the account in the previous month until the fee has been paid.

A major complication of this procedure is that it requires the prison or other facility holding the prisoner to cooperate administratively in the process for assessing the court’s statutory fee.  The courts can require the prison administration to provide the necessary information.  [16]

III.  THREE STRIKES PROVISION (28 U.S.C. § 1915(g))
The Third key thing to remember about the PLRA is that each lawsuit or appeal you file that is dismissed because a judge decides that it is frivolous, malicious, or does not state a proper claim counts as a “strike.”  After you get three strikes, you cannot file another lawsuit in forma pauperis – that is, you cannot file unless you pay the entire court filing fee up-front.  The only exception to this rule is if you are at risk of suffering serious physical injury in the immediate future.

An appeal of a dismissed action that is dismissed is a separate strike.  [17] Even dismissals that occurred prior to the effective date of PLRA count as strikes.  [18]

An exception to the “three strikes” rule may be invoked is a prisoner is in imminent danger of serious physical injury.  [19] A court will evaluate the “imminent danger” exception at the time the prisoner attempts to file the new lawsuit, not at the time that the incident that gave rise to the lawsuit occurred.  [20]

IV.  PHYSICAL INJURY REQUIREMENT (42 U.S.C. § 1997e(e))
The Fourth key to remember about the PLRA is that you cannot file a lawsuit for mental or emotional injury unless you can also show physical injury.

The requirement of physical injury only applies to money damages, it does not apply to claims for injunctive and declaratory relief.  [21] Some courts have suggested the possible availability of nominal and punitive damages even when compensatory damages are barred by the requirement of physical injury.  [22] The courts are split on whether a claim for violation of constitutional rights is intrinsically a claim for mental or emotional injury in the absence of an allegation of a resulting physical injury (or injury to property).  [23] Not surprisingly, the courts differ in their evaluation of what constitutes sufficient harm to qualify as a physical injury.  [24]

[1] White v. McGinnis, 131 F.3d 593 (6th Cir. 1997).

[2] See, e.g., Bey v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Corrections, 98 F. Supp. 2d 650 (E.D. Pa. 2000); Copper v. Garcia, 55 F. Supp. 2d 1090 (S.D. Cal. 1999).

[3] Miller v. Norris, 247 F. 736 (8th Cir. 2001).

[4] White v. McGinnis, 131 F. 3d 593 (6th Cir. 1997).

[5] Powe v. Ennis, 177 F. 3d 393 (5th Cir. 1999).  C.f.  Lewis v. Washington, 300 F. 3d 829 (7th Cir. 2002) (when prison officials do not respond to a prisoner’s initial grievance, administrative remedies are exhausted).

[6] Taylor v. Barrett, 105 F. Supp. 2d 483 (E.D. Va. 200); see also Miller v. Tanner, 196 F. 3d 1190 (11th Cir. 1999) (prisoner had exhausted when told by staff no appeal possible); Pearson v. Vaughn, 102 F. Supp. 2d 282 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (same).

[7] See, e.g., Miller v. Tanner, 196 F. 3d 1190 (11th Cir. 1999) (prisoner who failed to sign and date grievance form did not fail to exhaust administrative remedies; inmate did not fail to exhaust remedies by failing to appeal institutional-level denial of his grievance, after being told unequivocally that no such appeal was possible); Nyhuis v. Reno, 204 F. 3d 65 (3d Cir. 2000) (substantial compliance with grievance procedure will satisfy exhaustion requirement); cf. Camp v. Brennan, 219 F. 3d 279 (3d Cir. 2000) (holding that investigation of complaint by Secretary of Corrections rather than regular grievance system satisfied exhaustion requirement); but see Freeman v. Francis, 196 F. 3d 641 (6th Cir. 1999) (investigations by use of force committee and state police are not exhaustion).

[8] Some of the circuits holding that failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense are Ray v. Kertes, 285 F. 3d 287 (3d Cir. 2002); Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F. 3d 1108 (9th Cir. 2003); Foulk V. Charrier 262 F. 3d 687 (6th Cir. 2001) (dealing failure to exhaust as affirmative defense but allowing amendment to raise defense); see also Jackson v. District of Columbia, 254 F. 3d 262 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Massey v. Helman, 196 F. 3d 727 (7th Cir. 1999); Jenkins v. Haubert, 179 F. 3d 19 (2d Cir. 1999); Underwood v. Wilson, 151 F. 3d 292 (5th Cir. 1998) (exhaustion requirement may be subject to waiver).  The sixth Circuit alone requires dismissal on the court’s own initiative if the prisoner does not demonstrate exhaustion in the complaint.  Brown v. Toombs, 139 F. 3d 1102 (6th Cir. 1998).

[9] Perez v. Wisconsin Dept. of Correction, 182 F. 3d 532 (7th Cir. 1999); Wendell c. Asher, 162 F. 3d 887 (5th Cir. 1998); Wright v. Morris, 111 F 3d 414 (6th Cir. 1997).

[10] Harper v. Jenkins, 179 F. 3d 1311 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding that prisoner who filed an untimely grievance was obliged to seek a waiver of the time limits in the grievance system); see also Days v. Johnson, 322 F, 3d 863 (5th Cir. 2003) (when prisoner’s grievance was untimely because he had a broken hand and could not write, dismissal for failure to exhaust was improper); Poso v. McCaughtry, 286 F. 3d 1022 (7th Fic. 2002) (prisoner was missed deadline on one of the levels of appeals of the grievance system barred from filling lawsuit).

[11] Jonson v. Rivera, 272 F. 3d 519 (7th Cir. 2001); Brown v. Morgan, 209 F, 3d 593 (6th Fir. 2000); Harris v. Hegmann, 198 F. 3d 153 (5th Cir. 1999).

[12] Booth v. Churner, 121 S. Ct. 1819 (2001).

[13] Jackson v. District of Columbia, 254 F, 3d 262 (D.C. Cir. 2001).

[14] Edward v. Johnson, 209 F. 3d 772 (5th Cir. 2000).

[15] See, e.g., Salahuddin v. Mead, 174 F. 3d 271 (2d Cir. 1999); Bishop v. Lewis, 155 F. 3d 1094 (9th Cir. 1998); Brown v. Toombs, 139 F. 3d 1102 (6th Cir. 1996).

[16] Hall v. Stone, 170 F. 3d 706 (7th Cir. 1999) (holding warden in contempt for failure to forward fees from the prisoner’s account.

[17] Jennings v. Natrona C.o. Detention Center, 175 F, 3d 775 (10th Cir. 1999); Patterson v. Jefferson Corrections Center, 136 F. 3d 626 (5th Cir. 1998).

[18] See, e.g., Ibrahim v. District of Columbia, 208 F. 3d 1032 (D.C. Cir. 2000); Welch v. Galie, 207 F. 3d 130 (2d Cir. 2000).

[19] See, Gibbs v. Cross, 160 F. 3d 962 (3d Cir. 1998) (plaintiff alleged an imminent danger of serious physical injury where dust, lint and shower odor came from his cell vent, causing him to suffer “severe headaches, changes in voice, mucus that is full of dust and lint, and watery eyes.”).  See also, Ashley v. Dilworth, 147 F. 3d715 (8th Cir.1998) (allegations that staff placed plaintiff in proximity to known enemies satisfied imminent danger requirement).

[20] Abdul-Akbar v. McKelvie, 239 F. 3d 307 (3d Cir. 2001) (en banc).

[21] See, Harper v. Showers, 174 F. 3d 716 (5th Cir. 1999); Perkins v. Kansas Dept. of Corrections, 165 F. 3d 803 (10th Cir. 1999); Davis v. District of Columbia, 158 F. 3d 1342 (D.C. Cir. 1998).

[22] See, Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F. 3d 247 (3d Cir. 2000) (claims for nominal and punitive damages can go forward); Searles v. Van Bebber, 251 F. 3d 869 (10th Cir. 2001) (PLRA does not bar punitive and nominal damages for violation of prisoner’s rights); Davis v. District of Columbia, 158 F. 3d 1342 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (noting possibility that nominal damages would survive).

[23] See, Rowe v. Shake, 196 F. 3d 778 (7th Cir. 1999) (First Amendment claim not barred by physical injury requirement); Canell v. Lightner, 143 F. 3d 1210 (9th Cir. 1998) (claim for violation of First Amendment is not a claim for mental or emotional injury); cases going the other way include: Thompson v. Carter, 284 F. 3d 411 (2d Cir. 2002); Searles v. Van Behher, 251 F. 3d 869 (10th Cir. 2001); Allah v. Al-Hafeez, 226 F. 3d 247 (3d Cir. 2000) (First Amednment claims involve mental or emotional injuries); Davis v. District of Columbia, 158 F. 3d 1342 (D.C. 1998) (claim for violation of privacy is claim for mental or emotional injuries).

[24] See, Gomez v. Chandler, 163 F. 3d 921 (5th Cir. 1999) (allegations of cuts and abrasions satisfy physical injury requirement); Liner v. Goord, 196 F. 3d 132 (2d Cir. 1999) (Intrusive body searches qualify as physical injury); Compare to, Herman v. Holiday, 238 F. 3d 660 (5th Cir. 2001) (claim of “physical health problems” by prisoner exposed to asbestos does not specify a physical injury which would permit recovery for emotional or mental damages due to fear caused by increased risk of developing asbestos-related disease); Harper v. Showers, 174 F. 3d 716 (5th Cir. 1999) (confinement in filthy cell where exposed to mentally ill patients not physical injury); Sigler v. Hightower, 112 F. 3d 191 (5th Cir. 1997) (bruised ear does not qualify as physical injury).

 

LEGAL SERVICES, INFORMATION, AND HELP

Center for Constitutional Rights
666 Broadway, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10312
*Publishes “The Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook” and “Women’s Appendix”, self-help guides for filing Section 1983 claims in federal court against prison conditions and/or abuse by guards.
FREE on request.

Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
3075 Adeline Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94703
*Provides assistance to state prison inmates concerning medical access.  Offers referrals throughout nation.  Write for list of publications and disability civil rights and newsletter subscriptions.

Disability Rights Texas
2222 W. Braker Lane
Austin, TX 78758
*Provides a variety of services for disabled; advocates for accessibility to almost all areas of life for Texans.

A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual (JLM)
Columbia Human Rights Law Review
Attn: JLM Order
435 W. 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
*The JLM 9th Edition main volume is $30.  The Immigration and Consular Access Supplement is $5.  The Manual de Asesoria Legal Para Prisioneros edition is $15 and is only current through 2005.  First class shipping is included in the price, but it may take up to 8 weeks to receive.  Topics include habeas corpus, PLRA, civil rights claims (Section 1983), disciplinary proceedings, AIDS, immigration, and parole.  Please inquire with your prison law library to see if they will order a copy.

Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund
120 Wall Street 19th Floor
New York, NY 10005
*Provides legal defense for LGBT and HIV/AIDS discrimination claims.

Prison Legal Aid Network
1521 Alton Road, Suite 366
Miami Beach, FL 33139
*Helps prisoners throughout the United States by providing low-cost legal assistance to those in need.

Prisoner Self Help Legal Clinic
P.O. Box 798
Newark, NJ 07101
*Supports prisoners’ efforts at self-litigation with educational resources.  Provides services in Spanish and English.

Southern Center for Human Rights
83 Poplar Street NW
Atlanta, GA 30303-2122
*Brings lawsuits related to prison conditions on behalf of inmates.

Southwest AIDS Committee Inc.
Legal Services Referral Project
1505 Mescalero Drive
El Paso, TX 79925-2019
*Provides legal services for clients who are HIV-positive or have an AIDS diagnosis.

U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Special Litigation Section
PHB 950 Pennsylvania Avenue
NW Washington, DC 20530
*Enforces federal civil rights statues regarding conditions of institutional confinement, law enforcement misconduct, freedom of religion, and others.

State Counsel for Offenders
P.O. Box 4005
Huntsville, TX 77342-4005
*Provides Texas prisoners with attorneys to help with legal problems.  This office does not handle civil rights actions against TDCJ and its employees.  Most services involve post-conviction, criminal defense of prison cases, civil commitment defense, relief, family law, detainers, and time questions.

Texas Civil Rights Project
1405 Montopolis Drive
Austin, TX 78741
*Non-profit law firm that represents inmates in cases involving civil rights violations, with representation in select civil lawsuits.

Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association
6808 Hill Meadow Drive
Austin, TX 78736
*Provides referrals and limited pro bono assistance to inmates in criminal cases.

Texas Defender Service
510 S. Congress Avenue, Suite 304
Austin, TX 78704
*Provides free legal assistance to inmates with death penalty cases only.

Texas Fair Defense Project
510 S. Congress Avenue, Suite 208
Austin, TX 78704
*Provides legal assistance to a limited number of pre-trial detainees who have been denied access to counsel.

Texas Lawyers Care State Bar of Texas
P.O. Box 12487
Austin, TX 78711-2387
*Provides referrals to free and low-cost legal assistance.  Does not provide direct legal representation.

Transformative Justice Law Project of Illinois
4707 Broadway, Suite 307
Chicago, IL 60647
*Provides legal services to transgendered and gender non-conforming people targeted by the criminal legal system; will send resources.  Also provides trainings to outside agencies.

SUPPORT AND FAMILY RESOURCES

Convicts for Christ, Inc.
3651 NW 2nd Street
Fr. Lauderdale, FL 33311
*Provides religious/spiritual counseling, as well as emergency residential assistance and referrals, including family unification support.  NA, AA, other social services offered.  Also offers one-on-one mail counseling

Texas Inmate Families Association
P.O. Box 300220
Austin, TX 78703-0004
*Helps families assist their incarcerated family members with conditions issues, such as medical care, abuse, and violence.  Provides educational materials and other information.  Advocates for legislative and criminal justice reform and public awareness.

GRIEVANCES/COMPLAINTS

American Friends Service Committee
1501 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
*National campaign to stop the use of solitary confinement and related forms of torture in U.S. prisons.

Client-Attorney Assistance Program
P.O. Box 12487
Austin, TX 78711-2487
*This statewide service provided the State Bar of Texas supports dispute resolution and the attorney disciplinary process by accepting grievances for investigations.

The National Center on Institution and Alternatives
7222 Ambassador Road
Baltimore, MD 21244
*Offers parole advocacy services to inmates seeking parole transfer between institutions, or death penalty mitigations.

State Commission on Judicial Conduct
P.O. Box 12265
Austin, TX 78711-2265
*Investigates judicial conduct throughout Texas.

State Bar of Texas Grievance Program
Chief Disciplinary Counsel’s Office
P.O. Box 13287
Austin, TX 78711
*Formal procedure for clients who have been unable to resolve a problem with their attorney.  Write for forms.

Texas Board of Criminal Justice
P.O. Box 13084
Austin, TX 78711
*Sets rules and policies across a range of areas guiding TDCJ.

Texas Commission on Jail Standards
P.O. Box 12985
Austin, TX 78711
*Accepts complains involving inmates in county jails or private correctional facilities that house county inmates.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Offender Grievance Program
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
*Provides a two-step mechanism to resolve issues arising inside prison, including issues regarding TDCJ policies and procedures, actions of TDCJ employees or other offenders, harassment and/or retaliation, loss or damage of personal property by TDCJ, and problems with basic care controlled by TDCJ.

Texas Board of Criminal Justice
PREA Ombudsman Office
P.O. Box 99
Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
*Provides oversight of administrative investigations of offender complaints of sexual assaults and ensures impartial resolution of those complaints.

Texas Jail Project
1712 E. Riverside Drive
Austin, TX 78741
*Works to address conditions in Texas jails.

READING AND WRITING RESOURCES

Books Between the Bars
2309 Apollo Road
Box 605
Garland, TX 75044
*Provides 1 free book every 60 days to those who request.

Books Through Bars-Ithaca
c/o Autumn Leaves Bookstore
115 The Commons, 2nd Floor
Ithaca, NY 14850
*An all-volunteer operated, community-based organization that sends books mainly to the most populated states; NY,TX, FL, CA, PA.

Books to Prisoners
c/o Left Bank Books
92 Pike Street, Box A
Seattle, WA 98101
*Provides free books to prisoners nationwide.  Request by subject; no religious materials or legal materials.

Gainesville Books for Prisoners
P.O. Box 12164
Gainesville, FL 32604
*Provides free books to prisoners nationwide.  Accepts requests by topic of interest only.

Imailtoprison.com
*Sells books and ships free.
TDCJ approved vender with very quick response and fast delivery to prison.

Inside Books Project
c/o 12th St. Books
827 W. 12th Street
Austin, TX 78701
*Sends free books and literature to prisoners in Texas only.  Does not accept requests for hardcovers, Bibles, pulp fiction, or pornography.  Send one stamp for resource list and newsletter.  Accepts artwork donations for yearly prisoner’s art show.

PEN Prison Writing Program
PEN American Center
588 Broadway, Suite 303
New York, NY 10012
*Provides free Handbook for Writers in Prison for those who request a copy.  Sponsors annual writing contest for prisoners.

Prison Book Project
c/o Food for Thought Books
P.O. Box 396
Amherst, MA 01004-0396
*Serves prisoners in New England and TX only.  Request books by subject.  No mailing list or catalogue, and no hardback books.

Prison Library Project
915-C West Foothill Blvd.
PMB 128
Claremont, CA 91711
*Provides free reading material to inmates nationwide.

Prison Legal News
P.O. Box 2420
West Brattleboro, VT 05303
*Articles of interest on prison issues, reviews of important legal cases, and books dealing with legal issues and prison history.

Prisoners Literature Project
c/o Bound Together Books
1369 Haight Street
San Francisco, CA 94117

 

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