Tips for Survivors of Abuse

Tips for survivors of medical neglect or physical abuse within the PA Prison System Compliments of HRC-FedUP!

Human Rights Coalition – FedUp! Chapter – 5129 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224 412-361-3022 ext. 4 and leave a message

This is an overview of the grievance process folks should follow if they are survivors of medical neglect or physical abuse. It is excerpted from the PA Department of Corrections website.   For the complete document go to

Please note that we reworded some information that we thought was confusing and hard to understand

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has specific policies concerning the abuse of inmates by staff and any others who use the facilities and come in contact with inmates.  ‘Abuse’ here is defined as: excessive force, unwarranted life-threatening action, sexual contact, or threats of physical violence against inmates.  This does not include medical care issues, abuse by other inmates, the conditions of confinement, or any other wrongdoing by staff that is not listed above.

You can report allegations of abuse to any employee.   Any employee who receives written or verbal notification of abuse must complete a DC-121 Part 3, Employee Report of Incident form before they leave their shift.  If your complaint is not defined in the definition of abuse listed above, to our understanding, staff is not required to fill out an incident report.

For medical care problems, cases of physical abuse, or other general problems, inmates should use the grievance system.  They should first attempt to resolve the issue with the staff member(s) involved.

If simple negotiation does not solve the problem, they can file an official grievance on a DC-804, Part 1 form.  These should be readily available to all inmates.  It is important that grievances be submitted to the Facility Grievance Coordinator within 15 days of the incident.  There are only a few exceptions to this time constraint, such as if the inmate has been transferred, had Authorized Temporary Absence, or some other mail delivery problem.  If the grievance is filed after 15 days from the incident, the inmate must include the valid reason it was late on the grievance form.

Once the inmate has received the Initial Review decision, it may be appealed within 10 days of the original decision.  Only issues raised in the Initial Review or determinations of frivolousness can be appealed here.  Appeals can only be filed after those 10 days under the same exceptions as with the grievance. The inmate should indicate at the top of the form that it is an appeal and include the original grievance number.  Only one appeal to the Facility Manager is allowed per grievance.

If the appeal fails and the inmate still wishes to pursue the issue, they may make a final appeal to the Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals.  Only issues addressed in the first appeal may be included in this one.  After the inmate receives the ruling of the appeal to the Facility Manager, they have 15 days from the date of that decision to submit the new appeal (except under the same conditions explained above), which must be addressed to: Chief, Secretary’s Office of Inmate Grievances and Appeals  Department of Corrections   1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA  17050 This appeal must include photocopies of the original grievance, the review response, the appeal to the Facility Manager, and the Facility Manager’s decision.  This appeal also cannot be made unless an Initial Review and its appeal have been pursued.

The following guidelines have been written by people who are currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania and augmented by advocates.

   1.Follow the correct procedure for filing a grievance at your facility.  Remember: you must exhaust all available administrative remedies (i.e. a claim of alleged deliberate indifference to one’s medical needs/physical abuse) before other actions can be taken according to The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 (PLRA).

   2.It is also a good idea to contact the Medical Director and Health Care Administrator for your prison to see what their knowledge of the situation is and if they can help. It is most effective if a family member or loved one can make that call. If you’re outside support person is not a blood relative they may have to be authorized to discuss your medical records. This involves more paperwork but is possible. Keep in mind, even if the staff is not authorized to share information with you over the phone, you can share information with them. Let them know what you know about the situation. If you have absolutely no support, ask a friend if part of their support team would be willing to aid you. Also, try contacting outside organizations.

   3.If you have experienced physical abuse try to see medical staff  and get documentation if available.  Have your support team call your counselor, chaplain, unit manager and the warden to discuss the incident. Try one at a time. Again, a family member will be most effective at making this call.

   4.Tips for the support person  on making calls –  Try to avoid sounding accusatory on the phone. Counselors are good people to build relationships with as they are supposed to advocate for your loved one although they are not in charge of security or the grievance process. Often times they have such a huge caseload they are not sure who your loved one is and often times they can provide you with information. Calling the prison and building relationships with the staff no matter how hard it seems lets the administrators and staff know, that you are out there paying attention.  It is good to know where your loved one in prison is in the grievance procedure. For example, this way you can say: “They have reached this stage of the grievance procedure, nothing is being done. I am concerned, what can I do to make sure my loved one is all right? I am worried, This is what I know what do you know?” It’s best to call before  3pm.  If you don’t have long distance and/or it is hard for you to make calls because of your work schedule contact  an outside organization for possible help.

   5.Make copies of all actions you take.  Keep one and  try to get at least one copy of everything you do to someone you trust on the outside.

   6. Make sure to educate yourself on your medical problem(s) or prescriptions prescribed – this can mean doing your own research and/or getting someone to do it for you or assist you.  You can use this information in your efforts to get the institutions medical personnel to address your concerns.  You must be your own medical assistant! If the issue is medical care and you have a chronic condition for which you received treatment on the outside, ask your former doctor to write a letter to the prison health staff inquiring about the person’s care or to make a phone call to the prison on  the person’s behalf.  Also when researching and seeking info on one’s medical condition/disease consider connecting with local agencies for info, resources and advice near their prison as a relationship building possibility.

   7.Try not to adopt a hostile attitude towards staff members but also never blindly accept what they say to be true without confirmation from other sources (i.e. the research you’ve done).

   8.Also, don’t be afraid to complain!

   9.Medical malpractice suits should be filed in a state court as the standard of proof is higher in federal court.  While it is true medical malpractice cases have a lower standard than deliberate indifference cases in federal courts, in PA, one needs  to get another medical professional to certify that the treatment fell  below the standard of care.  There is an exception to this if the  medical care was so negligent that it is obviously below the standard of care.

   10.If you would like to contact an attorney about your situation, one option is writing the Pennsylvania Governor’s Office of General Counsel at 333 Market Street, 17th Floor Harrisburg, PA  17101

   11. If you have experienced physical abuse and are in state prison, you may want to contact the Office of Special Investigations and Intelligence (OSII) 1920 Technology Parkway, Mechanicsburg, PA  17050 – phone 717 214- 8473. If you are in jail in Allegheny County, you might want to write to the Jail Oversight  Board County Jail 950 Second Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15219  and/or ask family, friends, and other advocates to go to the jail oversight board meetings (the jail oversight board applies to medical care as well). Call all other county jails to see if they have similar boards.

   12.Get involved with street organizations that represent prisoners’ rights/health but also do not solely rely on them.  Instead, mainly rely on family or any friend you can interest for support and they can also network with the street organizations in helping you. See Resources on other side.

   13.Last of all, and very importantly, make smart decisions and keep yourself as healthy as possible by not smoking, eating well, exercising, and doing things that make you feel good – physically, mentally and emotionally.

The Legal, Pro-Bono and Advocacy on the Inside resource guide was updated in February 2013 by Nikki Donnelley, Bret Grote, and etta cetera.

Down Load Printable Version Here – Legal Resources 2013

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