Friday, January 29, 2016

The Unavoidable Exhaustion

By Guest Blogger Paul Dawson*

Filing a 1983 Civil Rights complaint can be a lofty task for anyone. The likelihood of a favorable outcome decreases drastically when the individual who is filing is incarcerated. The only way to come out on top in this “David vs. Goliath” fight is to follow the rules laid out by the Department of Corrections and the federal courts. This begins by “Exhausting your remedies.”

Exhausting your remedies can fall under several categories. The most common are called “Grievances” and “Discrimination Forms.” Other variations of these structures are based on institution preference but the fact remains the same: an incarcerated individual must try to resolve the issue “In-House” first by using the specific institutions complaint procedure.

Many attorneys take cases each year to help incarcerated individuals settle their grievances in court. There’s only one problem… no grievance has been filed! As to add to this problem, the grievance process is to be done solely by the one incarcerated; months before the federal complaint is filed. A federal complaint can be filed, an attorney obtained, and the case progressed to victory without the grievance process exhausted, but a check will never be written. You begin to see the complication – how can we make sure an incarcerated individual exhausts their remedies when they may not know the importance of this step and their attorneys will be uninformed of this crucial error until it’s too late. That is the probable $64,000 dollar question.

The solution begins with education by getting the consequential datum to the individuals in need of it the most. The possibilities of prevailing increase immensely. The possession of this information is being withheld and it is in our best interest to find new avenues to share it with a large group of individuals who have little to no access to relevant and comprehensive intelligence.

For my part, I believe this information would be most fitting should it be printed on the front of all grievance forms and the subsequent appeals. Additionally, having this printed on cover sheets of the tort packets and federal court packets would be paramount. A phrase as simple as, “You must exhaust this process (or the grievance process) before pursuing legal action” would suffice. With the legal community’s support, this can be done.

The opposition will not like this. Sealing this information is a critical method used by these institutions which only assists their transfinite budget and eliminates legitimate complaints. With an organized effort, we can balance the scales of justice and triumph in the face of adversity.

To share your ideas, contact Paul by writing to


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