View Full Version : How to Advocate for an Alabama Prisoner

11-14-2002, 04:26 PM
83 Poplar Street, N.W., Atlanta, GA 30303-2122
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How to Advocate for a Loved One who is being Mistreated in Prison in Alabama

As you probably know, it makes a big difference to your loved one who is in prison to know that you still care and will help him or her as much as possible when needed. It also can make a difference to prison officials when they realize that someone on the outside is paying attention to their treatment of inmates. Your letting the Warden or Sheriff know that you care and that you know what is happening in the facility can help your loved one receive better treatment. If your loved one is experiencing problems -- with another inmate, with a transfer, not getting needed medical care, not getting into a program, being assaulted -- we encourage you to write to the Warden or Sheriff of the institution, explaining your concerns. You should request that the they investigate these problems and let you know what they find out. You should keep a copy of any letters you send to the prison.
Since prison officials are often used to having power (i.e. hinking they are always right, and inmates are always
wrong), it may be helpful to start out by phrasing things in a way that does not accuse him or her of something right off.

For example, you could say, “It is my understanding that . . . ,” or, “My son/daughter told me that . . . , and I’m
wondering if you could look into this for me.” This may make the Warden or Sheriff more willing to listen than if you start off by saying, “Your officer did . . . to my son/daughter and I want you to . . . ,” or, “You are supposed to protect my son/daughter, but . . . happened to him/her.” Even if you think or know the prison officials did something wrong, accusing them will probably only make them less cooperative and more defensive than if you simply give them the message that you are concerned and will advocate for your loved one. It is up to you how to handle this, but it has been our experience that this approach is often more successful.
If you write to the Warden or Sheriff and do not hear anything back within a week, you should try calling the
institution directly to follow up on your letter. Just as you keep copies of any letters that you send to the facility, also keep records (date, time, name of the person you spoke with, what they said, what you said, etc.) of any telephone calls you make and receive.

If your loved one is a state inmate and you do not get a satisfactory response from the institution, you should write to the commissioner's office and to the Office of Internal Investigations at the following address:

Commissioner Donal Campbell
Alabama Department of Corrections
P.O. Box 301501
Montgomery, AL 36130

Office of Internal Investigations
Alabama Department of Corrections
P.O. Box 301501
Montgomery, AL 36130

When writing to any of these offices, include a copy of the letters you sent to the prison, give the name(s) of the
people you have spoken with at the prison, and explain what response (if any) you have received. Ask them to look into the matter and get back to you.

Whether your loved one is a state or county inmate, you can also write to your State Senator and State Representative and to Alabama’s two U.S. Senators in Washington and your U.S. Representative in Washington (If you do not know who your elected representatives are, look in the blue pages of the phone book for your county’s Voter Registration Office. Call that office and give them your address. They can tell you who your government representatives are.). Send these government officials a copy of any letters that you have sent to the jail or prison and to any other offices, explain what responses (if any) you have received, and request that they look into the problem as well.

Often their offices will write a letter to the institution requesting a report. This can be very helpful.

There may be times when you think you need an attorney to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, it is often very hard for an inmates to win a case against prison officials, even when it seems very clear that the prison official(s) did something wrong. You and your loved one should think carefully before you decide to file a lawsuit. Also, be sure not to give money to an attorney without a written contract of what they will do.
If your loved one is having or has had serious problems, like being assaulted or harassed or denied medical care, you may want to consult an attorney about filing a lawsuit. If your loved one is considering filing a lawsuit, he/she should be aware that many aspects of prison litigation have been affected by a federal law called the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) passed in 1996. The PLRA places considerable limitations on prisoners’ lawsuits. First, an inmate must go through all the steps of any grievance/administrative remedy procedures in the institution (this is called “exhausting administrative remedies”) before filing the lawsuit. Whether he/she thinks it will do any good or not, he/she must file the grievance and appeal it all the way up to the top in order for the court to consider the lawsuit. Records of these grievances at every step along the way (all filings, responses, etc.) should be kept.

Second, before filing anything in federal court, one must carefully consider how important it is to oneself to do
so. This is important because under the PLRA, an inmate is barred from filing further lawsuits in federal court if a
federal judge has thrown out three of his/her prior lawsuits as “frivolous” (this is commonly known as the “three strikes and you’re out” policy). A “frivolous” lawsuit is one that cannot go forward because it does not state a recognized claim under federal law. The list of self-help legal manuals which is available to this website may assist you if you choose to pursue you own case.

If your loved one wishes to pursue a lawsuit, he or she should compile all necessary documentation (medical
records, photos, disciplinary reports, grievances, etc.) and complete the grievance procedure. When writing to
attorneys requesting assistance, the letter should not be more than one to two pages long. Explain the essential
details of what has happened, and identify any documentation that can be provided to them as well (it is not
necessary to include the documentation with the first letter). If the attorney is interested, they will contact you and can then review the records and get more information from you.

If your loved one is in prison and is up for parole consideration, paying an attorney to help your loved one get
parole is usually not a good idea. An attorney cannot help influence the parole board’s decision any more than you can, possibly even less (and your input is free!). The parole board is looking for things a family or friend can help with, such as a place for the person to live when they are released; an employment prospect or guarantee; a church, temple or mosque to support them when they are released; other community support or programs (such as AA or others) to participate in; and school or job training plans.

We hope this information is helpful to you. It really does make a difference if you, as a family member or friend
and a concerned citizen, show that you care about what goes on behind prison walls. Your loved one is very fortunate to have someone looking out for him or her!