Filing a Grievance in the TDCJ Prisons

Grievance Procedure
Grievance Procedure

For inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice system, filing a grievance is the only way to resolve issues or conflicts. The TDCJ has set forth specific steps which must be completed before a lawsuit can be filed.

What is a Grievance?

A grievance is how an inmate asks for help with problems they have while they are in a Texas prison. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), inmates in any Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison must follow and complete certain steps before an inmate can sue.

The first step is to file a grievance. The second step is to file an appeal.

Grievable Issues

The following issues can go through the offender grievance process.

TDCJ policies and procedures

Actions of an employee or another offender

Harassment and/or retaliation for use of the grievance procedure or access to courts

Loss or damage of personal property by TDCJ

Basic care (things that TDCJ can control)

Non-grievable issues include:

State and Federal laws

Parole decisions

Time-served credit disputes

Matters for which other formal appeal mechanisms exist

Any matter beyond the control of the TDCJ

Initial Attempt at Resolution

Before a grievance is actually filed try what is known as “informal resolution”. This is simply talking with prison staff about the problem. If you do not receive an acceptable response, then move on to the formal grievance process.

Step One – File a Grievance

  1. Get a grievance form from TDCJ as well as any rules or policies regarding the grievance process. The forms should be available in the law library or your housing unit. If you can’t find the forms you can ask to see someone in the administrative offices to obtain these.
  2. 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. Inmates are limited to writing only 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.

Step Two – File an Appeal

TDCJ has 40 days to respond to your Step 1 grievance. You can file a Step 2 Grievance Appeal as soon as you receive a response to your Step 1 Grievance, if you feel the issue was not resolved. If 40 days have passed and you have still not received a response from your Step 1 Grievance and you have not been notified that there will be a delay, you can proceed to file the Step 2 Grievance Appeal.

You must file a Step 2 Grievance Appeal within 15 days of receiving the response to your Step 1 Grievance. TDCJ has 35 additional days to process a Step 2 Grievance Appeal.

Always keep copies of your returned grievances. You may need them later on and it can be difficult to obtain copies.

Another Consideration

Many prisoners report an increase in harassment or life becoming more difficult after filing a grievance so you should carefully consider whether a grievance is more important than the hassle it may cause in the long run. In addition, it is likely that the information on the grievances will become a part of the parole materials reviewed by the voting members of the Texas Board of Pardons and Appeals (TBPP). Too many grievances or grievances based on “nit picky” things might be considered as proof you are a troublemaker and result in a Texas parole being denied.

Where to Go for Help

If you are unable to prepare and process the grievance yourself you can contact the Ombudsman’s office for the prison system. While the Ombudsman doesn’t actually advocate for the prisoner, they can help with the basics and take a somewhat neutral role in reaching a resolution.

Contact:

Ombudsman Coordinator

General issues concerning the agency’s operation and policy and procedures, issues from the public relating to secure facilities (prison units, state jails, and substance abuse felony punishment facilities), and any specific concerns regarding offenders confined in these types of facilities.

Shannon Kersh
PO Box 99
Huntsville, TX 77342-0099
Phone: (936) 437-4927 or toll free hotline (844) 476-1289
(Toll free hotline will be open Saturdays and Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
Fax: (936) 437-4930
ombudsman@tdcj.texas.gov
E-mail Contact Form

Bilingual staff is available for non-English speaking inmates.

Parole Division Ombudsman

Issues relating to clients who have been released from TDCJ and are being supervised by a parole officer while on parole or mandatory supervision.

PO Box 13401, Capitol Station
Austin, TX 78711
Phone: (512) 406-5795
Fax: (512) 406-5858
parole.div@tdcj.texas.gov

Summary

While Texas does not have one of the best criminal justice systems in the country, at least in the belief of most Texas parole lawyers, the grievance process itself is actually reasonable. Preparing the proper forms and meeting the filing deadlines will often result in reasonable resolutions to minor problems.

If you have an incarcerated loved one, we suggest you take a look at our book How to Prepare a Texas Parole Packet. The book provides easy to follow instructions and forms for creating a Texas parole package.

How to Prepare a Texas Parole Packet is available in ebook format as an instant download or in bundled form with an ebook and a printed book to be sent to an offender in prison or someone at home. Since we are an approved vendor there are no issues receiving our books at any of the Texas jails or prisons.

About the Author

Lawyer X
Lawyer X is the pen name of a former attorney who now spends all of his time writing and consulting. While in practice he was involved in both criminal and civil trials across the United States, including picking or helping to pick juries in hundreds of civil and criminal cases. In addition to his work as a trial lawyer, Lawyer X wrote articles, lectured at continuing legal education seminars, and was active in the legal community in many ways. He maintains anonymity now so that he can provide knowledge from inside and express honest opinions and viewpoints that other members of the legal community would just as soon weren't shared.