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Filing a Grievance in a Texas Prison: Answers to Common Questions

Prisoner & Ex-Offender Resources

This article provides information on rules applied to prison-related grievances; where to find grievance forms; and what to do if a grievance is ineffective. This article was written by Texas Civil Rights Project.

What is the purpose of filing a grievance in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ)?

Grievances are how inmates ask for help with problems they have while they are in prison. Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), inmates of Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) prisons must exhaust administrative remedies before they may file a lawsuit in federal court.

TDCJ guidelines require certain steps to be completed before an inmate can sue. The first step is a grievance. The second step is an appeal.

If you do not file a grievance (Step 1) then an appeal (Step 2), you have failed to exhaust your administrative remedies.

What rules apply to TDCJ grievances?

TDCJ grievances are covered by strict rules. Check the inmate handbook when completing grievance forms.

Important points to keep in mind:

  • Before writing a grievance, discuss your problem with prison staff or administration.
    • This is called “informal resolution” and may yield a good result, eliminating the need to file a grievance.
    • You may discuss the problem verbally,
      • or by sending I-60 requests to prison administrators.
    • Make a record reflecting:
      • who you discussed the problem with,
      • whether you spoke to them in person or wrote to them,
      • the date(s) of your discussion(s), and
      • what response, if any, was received.
  • Each grievance may only concern one problem only, so write only about the problem you need help with.
  • TDCJ accepts only one grievance per week for processing.
    • Prioritize your problems so that the most pressing issue may be dealt with first.
  • Do not use vulgar or threatening language when drafting your grievance.
    • TDCJ has the right to refuse to process grievances that contain profanity or threats.
  • You must submit a grievance within 15 days of learning about the problem you want help with. If you miss this deadline, you will have to show that there is a good reason for the tardiness.

What should I put in a TDCJ grievance?

The most important pieces of information to include are:

  • A detailed description of:
    • the problem,
    • when you became aware of the problem, and
    • how it affects you.
  • Attempts to resolve the problem informally
    • State who you have spoken with and what their response was.
  • Solutions you would like
    • Example: If you are sick you may ask to see a doctor.

What should I do after filing a TDCJ grievance?

Update your records with the date you submitted the grievance.

Keep updating your records with:

  • the date you receive a response,
  • what the response says, and
  • any steps you take after a response.

How long will my TDCJ grievance take?

TDCJ must process and respond to your grievance within 40 days. If you have not received a determination or a notification that TDCJ will need more time 40 days after submission, you may file a Step 2 grievance.

What if a filing a TDCJ grievance does not help me?

In some cases, a Step 1 grievance will not yield a satisfactory solution. If you are unhappy with TDCJ's response, you have 15 days after receipt to file a Step 2 grievance appealing TDCJ’s decision. TDCJ then has an additional 35 days to deliver a decision. Keep all copies of grievances submitted and returned. You may need them later and they could become difficult to obtain.

What if I’m incarcerated in a non-TDCJ facility, like county jail?

The grievance process at county jails varies. Check your inmate handbook or ask facility staff how to file a grievance. There might not be a grievance process at that jail.

Always maintain a record by writing down:

  • the date and time you asked about filing a grievance,
  • who you spoke with, and
  • what their response was.

If you do not receive a response or receive an unsatisfactory response, ask jail staff how to file an appeal.

Can an incarcerated juvenile file a grievance?

Juvenile offenders may file grievances at all county detention facilities. Grievance forms are available from the grievance clerk in each dorm, along with drop boxes for form submission. These forms are on the Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) website.

Parents, guardians, and youth advocates may file grievances on behalf of juvenile inmates. If a satisfactory response is not received within 15 days, file a Step 2 grievance. Ask facility staff where to submit this appeal. If a satisfactory response to the appeal is not received within 15 business days, another appeal must be filed with TJJD’s executive director at TJJD’s central office

Juveniles on parole follow the same process, but may request grievance forms from the district parole office where they report.

Additionally, parents and guardians may contact the TJJD Office of the Independent Ombudsman to seek a solution to juvenile inmates’ problems. More information about the grievance process may be provided by the TJJD Title IX Coordinator upon request. Contacting these offices will not be construed to exhaust administrative remedies for the purposes of filing a lawsuit. The grievance process must still be followed.

Can inmates' family members file grievances?

Unfortunately, only juvenile offenders may have others submit grievances on their behalf. Grievance forms are available on the Texas Juvenile Justice Department website for parents, guardians, and youth advocates to submit.

If you are not a juvenile, your family members can contact the following offices to assist you with problems:

Contacting the above offices will not contribute to the specified need to exhaust administrative remedies for the purposes of filing a lawsuit. The grievance process must still be followed.

Are there exceptions to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)?

While there are exceptions to the PLRA requirements for filing grievances, never rely on these exceptions without first consulting a lawyer. If you are unsure, filing a grievance will preserve your right to sue.

  • Inmates in county jails and youth offenders housed in TJJD facilities are not required to file grievances if a suit is filed in state (rather than federal) court.
  • The PLRA only applies to inmates so you may file suit without filing grievances if you have been released from prison.
    • In most cases, you will be required to file suit no more than two years after the incident occurred. So it is best to file grievances if your release date falls outside of this limit.
  • If you would like to file suit because an inmate related to you died in prison, filing a grievance is not required.

Where can I find grievance forms for inmates?

The prison's or jail’s law library and the inmate's housing unit should have grievance forms available upon request.