INMATE GRIEVANCE SYSTEM
The following is a breakdown of the 2,680 grievances filed for the first eight months of 1998:
Access to Courts 19
Food Service 140
Grievance office 31
Inmate Accounts 81
Law Library 17
Physical Plant 18
Policy and Procedures 2
Sexual Misconduct 5
Sexual Misconduct-Staff 4
Staff Conduct 77
Staff Misconduct 96
Use of Force 21
Three-quarters of those grievances were in just six categories:
Food Service 140
Property. Inmates grievances about property averaged 30 in January and February but shot up to 159 in March, after an institution-wide search ("shake-down") for weapons and other contraband after two inmate homicides. (See the section on the "Spring 1998 Mass Shakedown" below.) During that shake-down, many staff were assigned to search inmates' property and confiscate that which inmates were not permitted to have; unfortunately, afterward many of the "confiscation sheets" were missing.
According to the Sergeant now in charge of the Receiving and Discharge Department (R&D), two rooms were filled with confiscated property, the owners of which were often difficult to identify. In fact, the R&D records show 733 filed "property claims," although an estimated 100 of those may have been "duplicates." In any case, since March 1998, the NEOCC has had to deal with the massive burden of trying to sort out inmate property.
Actually, the grievance process may not always be the best one for inmates to use to regain their property, although the NEOCC policy on Inmate Grievance Procedures (#14-1, 5/21/98) does list "the loss of property legitimately possessed by an inmate" as a "grievable matter." Another NEOCC policy (#14-6) covers Claims for Lost/Stolen Inmate Property. So it is understandable that inmates may have been confused about which filing method to use. Thus, frequently the responses to inmates' property-related grievances were that they should file property claims instead, that they should wait for the "large task force" on property to finish its work, or that they should wait until the warden responds. In regard to the latter, the warden, as recently as September 1998, had been speaking to inmates personally to settle their property claims a process that was time-consuming for him and slow for the inmates. In October, however, during a three-day institution-wide property inventory and issuance, inmates were invited during an "open house" in the gymnasium to settle any outstanding claims directly and personally through the assistant wardens.
After March, grievances about property dropped back to an average of about 55 per month. And it is noteworthy that the amount of inmate property in R&D has been reduced to a few shelves, with an obvious improvement in how it is being managed. (For example, an audit at the NEOCC March 11-13, 1998, headed by the DOC Deputy Director for Institutions, reported approximately 65 bags of property awaiting return to the DOC for inmates who were no longer even at the NEOCC.)
Medical. Grievances about medical care represented seventeen percent of grievances filed an average of about 56 per month. A spot-check of those filed in May suggested that most complaints were about not receiving medical appointments or medications, and the resolutions were generally resolved by indicating that the inmate had now received what he had requested. The results of the Trustee's review of NEOCC medical care are detailed elsewhere in this report.
Programs. Grievances about programs represented twelve percent of grievances filed an average of about 40 per month. Complaints in January and February averaged about 26, but then increased to 33 in March and to an average of about 46 for April through August. Noting this increase after the housing stratification and controlled movement was implemented, and because of inmate complaints to the review team about their lack of access to programs, the review team examined the subjects of the inmates' grievances in this category. There was no particular pattern, however, and few were about the lack of programs or access to those programs.
Security. Grievances about categorized as "security" represented twelve percent of all grievances filed an average of about 32 per month. The Grievance Officer explained, however, that often this category is not about security as such, but about allegations about actions of security staff. As examples, among those were complaints about staff not using the intercom to announce activities, not leaving a food slot open, and commissary products missing after a room search.
Also, starting in about May, several previously separate categories about staff misconduct were combined with the security category, thus giving the appearance that complaints about security had increased.
Classifications. Grievances about classifications represented seven percent of all grievances filed an average of about 23 per month. May (about the time the housing stratification was being fully implemented) was the highest month with 50. Many of those complaints were actually about housing assignments (need for single cell, non-smoking cell, etc.). Others were custody classification itself, which, of course, materially affects housing assignments at the NEOCC.
Mail. Even though mail was the fifth largest category of inmate grievances, it represented only six percent of all grievances filed an average of only twenty per month, out of an inmate population of about 1,500. Some inmates complained verbally to the reviewers about mail, but the review team found that the NEOCC mail room on 9/24/98 was processing mail postmarked on 9/21/98 or 9/22/98, without any apparent backlog. This is a marked improvement, since an audit at the NEOCC March 11-13, 1998, headed by the DOC Deputy Director for Institutions, found undelivered mail dating back to February 1998.
Food Service. Even though food service was the sixth largest category of inmate grievances, it represented only five percent of all grievances filed an average of about 17 per month from an inmate population of about 1,500.