E-Alerts & Press Releases

Regulations on Prisoner Grievances Reviewed at PJC and ACLU Request

On Monday, January 28, 2008, the Public Justice Center, the ACLU of Maryland, and the ACLU National Prison Project sent urgent requests to the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) and to the General Assembly’s AELR (Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review) Committee urging them not to publish highly problematic regulations. Four days later, the Department agreed not to publish the regulations and has agreed to meet with the PJC and ACLU to address our concerns. Although seemingly inconsequential, the administrative remedies available to a prisoner in a Maryland prison have enormous impact on a prisoner’s ability to obtain judicial (or even administrative) relief for such things as violations of constitutional rights, unmet medical needs, and protection from harm. Last year, the PJC represented a man (Curtis Brown) who was unable to obtain relief for an injury that occurred while he was incarcerated (an industrial fan fell on his face while he was sleeping). The State argued that Mr. Brown could not have his day in Court because he hadn’t exhausted all of his administrative remedies. The PJC argued that Mr. Brown did not need to exhaust his remedies both because (1) the prison never responded to his request, and (2) the DPSCS administrative remedy procedures were invalid because they weren’t compliant with the State Administrative Procedure Act (APA). The APA requires that agency rules affecting a broad spectrum of the public (including prisoners) must be publicly proposed, subject to public comment, and published in an available source. While Mr. Brown’s appeal was pending, the State essentially conceded this argument when it introduced the administrative remedy procedures as proposed regulations pursuant to the APA. The proposed regulations, however, are riddled with problems. They are incomprehensible, especially for prisoners – 70% of whom are functionally illiterate. They create procedural protections for the DPSCS to avoid addressing a prisoner’s concern but create only procedural pitfalls for the prisoner. If a prisoner fails to dot the i or cross the t, s/he may be without any recourse whatsoever for all manner of injuries, civil rights violations, etc. Had the DPSCS been able to publish the regulations as they are written, even though they are not final, given the nature of the regulation process it would have created a significant obstacle to changing the text of the provisions. The PJC and ACLU now have an opportunity to persuade the DPSCS to make the administrative remedy process clear and fair.

« Back