What is the Prison Litigation Reform Act, and How Do I Comply With It?

Even though a person is in prison, they still have rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. However, there are certain extra steps which any prisoner must take before he/she can file a lawsuit against a prison official or employee. If these extra steps, which are required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PRLA”) are not properly followed, then no lawsuit can be filed. 

The PRLA requires that any prisoner who wishes to file a claim must first exhaust the “administrative” remedies. In Pennsylvania, the administrative remedy available to inmates is the grievance process, which must be started within fifteen days of the incident or injury. Thus, if a prisoner is ever injured, is denied adequate medical care, or has his constitutional rights violated in some other way, he must immediately begin and complete the grievance process, or be forever barred from suing for that incident or injury. In other words, without completing the entire process, an inmate may not maintain a federal lawsuit

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections’ grievance process contains the following steps, all of which must be taken to properly “exhaust” the grievance process:

  • The prisoner’s Official Inmate Grievance on form DC-804, filed within 15 days of the incident or injury giving rise to the claim; 

  • The Initial Review Response from the Facility Grievance Coordinator; 

  • The Appeal to Superintendent within 15 days of the date of the Initial Review Response, which is required if the initial grievance is denied; 

  • The Superintendent’s Appeal Response; 

  • The Final Appeal to the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals within 15      days of the Superintendents’ Appeal Response, assuming the grievance was again denied; and finally, 

  • The Final Appeal Decision from the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals. 

Only after a prisoner has received the Final Appeal Decision can a lawsuit be filed in state or federal court. Therefore, despite the fact that nearly all grievances are summarily denied, it is very important to complete this process to have any hope of recovery. The most common mistakes to avoid, are making sure to name all the individuals to whom the grievance relates, and failing to file the grievance within the fifteen day time limit. Failure to do either of these things will be fatal to otherwise meritorious legal claims

If you or someone you know has been been injured or had their rights violated while incarcerated, please immediately begin the grievance process and contact the Mizner Law Firm immediately at jfm@miznerfirm.com or call 814.454.3889 to learn how we may be able to assist you.