The Federal Bureau of Prisons permits inmates to file administrative remedies (i.e., grievances) when they have an issue which they can’t resolve informally. This grievance process is called the Administrative Remedy Program.
As long as the issue effects you personally, you can grieve virtually any issue. Common issues include lack of medical care and disciplinary appeals. While the option is always present and can result in a favorable resolution to a prisoner’s concern, not many prisoners file administrative remedies, and most don’t understand how to use the program in a smart and effective manner. In this case, most federal prisons have quality jailhouse lawyers available in the law library (who illicitly help other prisoners for a fee), but certain attorneys and prison consultants who specialize in the Federal Bureau of Prisons are probably where you will be able to obtain the most competent counsel.
The BOP’s Administrative Remedy Program consists of a tiered system of complaints and appeals:
- The first step is the attempt at informal resolution (often called a BP-8 or BP-8 1/2). This form is obtained from the inmate’s counselor and returned back to them upon completion. While the counselor conducts the investigation into the issue (which often includes calling or emailing the person the issue is about to determine if the problem can be resolved or the issue fixed), the unit manager signs off on it and returns it to the prisoner. Depending on the federal prison in question, and their corresponding institutional supplement, a time limit can be enforced for the unit team to respond to a BP-8 (e.g., at FCC Petersburg it is five working days.)
- If the issue isn’t resolved through the filing of the BP-8, then the prisoner can appeal to their prison’s warden on a BP-9 form (the blue form). The BP-9 must be filed within 20 days of the issue being grieved. After a period the warden will issue a written response. The warden has an initial 20 days to respond, but is presumed to also obtain the 20 day extension. If the prisoner isn’t satisfied, they can appeal to the applicable regional office through a BP-10, which must be filed within 20 days of the warden’s written response. After a period the regional director will issue a written response. The regional director has an initial 30 days to respond, but is presumed to also obtain the 30 day extension.
- If the prisoner isn’t satisfied, they can appeal to Central Office through a BP-11, which must be filed within 30 days of the regional director’s written response. After a period Central Office will respond. While they are permitted to take 40 days to respond, plus a 20 day extension, in this day and age, they are taking upwards of 12-15 months to respond. After the authorized response and extension periods have expired, the inmate is free to file suit concerning the issue, if so desired.
Administrative remedies can be a very useful tool in the right hands. They can be used to appeal adverse disciplinary findings, grieve any number of issues, and bring problems to the attention of supervisors, who can then resolve the issue. The key is in using such grievances in an informed and intelligent manner, which often means retaining a quality jailhouse lawyer or prison consultant to handle the matter.
While prisoners worry about officials possibly retaliating for the filing of grievances, this doesn’t appear to be the case. In the old days prison officials did retaliate against prisoners for filing grievances. For example, they used to subject prisoners to “diesel therapy,” where they would essentially continuously transfer a prisoner for months or years on end to punish them. This is no longer the case, and diesel therapy has been deemed by the courts to be illegal.
If you miss a deadline, file anyways, and as soon as possible. Just because you miss a deadline doesn’t mean that the BOP won’t address the issue anyways. If they do refuse to address the issue, then you should appeal the denial all the way to Central Office and also start over again with a BP-8. This way you ensure to exhaust your administrative remedies in case you want to file suit at some later point in time.
Prisoners can learn more about the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Administrative Remedy Program through the TRULINCS computers in the law library. Once there, you can read 28 C.F.R. Part 542 and the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Administrative Remedy Program program statement (PS 1330.18). Both of these documents outline the BOP’s grievance system.
The BOP’s Administrative Remedy Program is there to help you when an issue arises, but it isn’t a toy. Don’t file frivolous grievances. Those just bog down the system. But if you do have a legitimate issue, regardless of what it is, then this can be a great avenue to correcting the problem and obtaining the resolution that you are seeking.