Tate McCotter, NIJO Executive Director
Nicole Youseff, Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, AZ
Have a discussion with most correctional supervisors and say the word grievance. For most, it is a dreaded word. Dealing with complaints about policies, procedures, decisions made by administrations and accusations of misconduct by fellow officers can be taxing and trying. The grievance officer and supervisors assigned to follow up on these grievance complaints have a difficult job, but if done correctly, it can save agencies a lot of valuable time, money and need for unnecessary litigation.
A strong grievance policy in a facility is vital tool in being a formal way to deliver complaints and concerns from an Inmate to Administration. A strong grievance policy with an equally well defined procedure for the inmate to receive a written response is even better. Grievances do not diminish the authority of jail staff as most people tend to think. It does, however, ensure authority is properly used while serving as a check against potential abuses. Grievance policy can also help administration determine which policies need to be revised, reviewed or even abolished.
Staff answering grievances at the lowest possible level is detrimental in the running of a successful facility. When a grievance or complaint is resolved it helps everyone all around. The inmate population feels as if they have an outlet to be heard and tend to be less aggressive in behavior. Administration can zero in on an area in the jail where staff may need improvement or show where staff may excel. Grievance resolution can also put a stop to future litigation when done correctly.
Policies and procedures should provide a clear chain of command in responding to grievances.
- Policies and procedures should clearly give line level staff the responsibility to attempt to resolve grievances at the first level or informal level.
- The lower the level, the lower the litigation generally.
- Line staff should either document how the matter was handled or notify the proper supervisor advising what was done in an attempt to resolve the matter and the disposition.
- Jail supervisors should counsel with staff members in those situations where a grievance should have been resolved at the line level rather than being passed up the chain of command unnecessarily. They should also be watchful to ensure retaliation does not occur by the involved line level staff.
- Facilities should have a clear and precise policy outlining what can and cannot be grieved so staff is not confused or afraid to resolve or respond.
- Administration should request monthly reports from Grievance Coordinator reflecting statistics from the month’s grievances, to include resolved, not resolved and pending grievances.
- Retain any and all inmate request forms, grievance forms and papers showing proof of resolution.