Before You Can Sue the BOP: What Every Federal Inmate Needs to Know

October 15, 2015

By Caitlin Steinke, Law Firm of Tina Foster

Inmates can bring lawsuits against the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) for violating their rights. However, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) prevents inmates from taking their case straight to federal court. It is important for inmates and their loved ones to understand the requirements of the PLRA.

Exhaustion of administrative remedies

The most crucial - and burdensome - component of the PLRA is its requirement that inmates exhaust their administrative remedies before filing a lawsuit against the BOP. This means that an inmate must file a complaint through the prison's administrative remedy program, and take the complaint through all available levels of appeal. If you file a lawsuit before "exhausting" your administrative remedies through the prison, the court is almost guaranteed to dismiss your case. The court will permit you to file the lawsuit again once you have exhausted your administrative remedies, but due to the statute of limitations governing your legal claim, you may not have time to do so. Therefore, it is absolutely critical that you take your complaint all the way through the administrative remedy program any time your rights are being violated, to ensure that you preserve your right to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Request for administrative remedy - completing the BP-9 form

The first step to the administrative remedy process is filing an initial complaint with the BOP. You should request and complete a BP-9 form as soon as possible after your rights are violated. BOP policy requires you to submit your initial complaint within 20 days of the incident, and there are very few exceptions to this rule. Your BP-9 should provide a clear and detailed description of your complaint, and should include dates, times, locations, and the names of BOP staff members involved, if possible. If you need more space than what is provided on the form, you can continue your complaint on a single letter-size piece of paper (but you must submit an additional copy with your BP-9). You can also attach supporting exhibits to your BP-9. The BOP will not return any exhibits to you, so you should make several copies of any exhibits you submit with your BP-9. As a general rule of thumb, you should make copies of any documents you submit to the BOP, so you have copies for your own records and copies to share with your family and/or legal counsel.

BOP response time to your BP-9

The BOP is required to respond to your BP-9 within 20 days of it being logged into the system. The BOP can extend its response time by an additional 20 days, and must inform you of this in writing. If you do not receive a response within the relevant time frame, you should consider the lack of a response to be a denial of your BP-9, and you can appeal to the next level. 

Regional administrative remedy appeal - completing the BP-10 form

If you do not receive a response to your BP-9, or are unhappy with the response you received and wish to appeal in order to exhaust your administrative remedies on this claim, you need to appeal the decision within 20 days of the date the response is signed. Because there is often a delay between the response being signed and it reaching you, it is likely that you will have fewer than 20 days to submit your appeal. The administrative remedy program makes it very difficult for inmates to take their complaints through the grievance process, and you will need to move quickly. In order to appeal the decision, you should request and complete a BP-10 form. Your BP-10 must state your complaint and your reason for appeal. You cannot raise any new issues on this form - your complaint has to be the same complaint you made in your BP-9. You must attach (1) a copy of your completed BP-9 (including any continuation page and exhibits) and (2) the BOP decision that you are appealing. If you include a new continuation page with your BP-10, or include any new exhibits not already submitted with your BP-9, you must make two additional copies of those documents.

BOP response time to your BP-10

The BOP is required to respond to your BP-10 within 30 days of it being logged into the system. The BOP can extend its response time by an additional 30 days, and should inform you of this in writing. If you do not receive a response within the relevant time frame, you should consider the lack of a response to be a denial of your BP-10, and you can appeal to the next level.

Central Office administrative remedy appeal - completing the BP-11 form

If you do not receive a response to your BP-10, or are unhappy with the response you received and wish to appeal in order to exhaust your administrative remedies on this claim, you need to appeal the decision within 30 days of the date the response is signed. In order to appeal the decision, you should request and complete a BP-11 form. Much like before, your BP-11 must state your complaint and your reason for appeal. Again, you cannot raise any new issues on this form - your complaint has to be the same complaint you made in your BP-9 and BP-10. This time, you must attach (1) a copy of your completed BP-9 (including any continuation page and exhibits), (2) the BOP response to your BP-9, (3) a copy of your completed BP-10 (including any continuation page and exhibits), and (4) the BOP response to your BP-10. If you include a new continuation page with your BP-11, or include any new exhibits not already submitted with your BP-9 or BP-10, you must make three additional copies of those documents.

BOP response time to your BP-11

The BOP is required to respond to your BP-11 within 40 days of it being logged into the system. The BOP can extend its response time by an additional 20 days, and should inform you of this in writing. If you do not receive a response within the relevant time frame, you should consider the lack of a response to be a denial of your BP-11. You cannot appeal the decision of the Central Office - it is the final level of the BOP's administrative remedy program. This means you have exhausted your administrative remedies on this claim, and have preserved your right to bring your claim in federal court.

 

This article provides only general information, and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with an attorney for guidance on specific legal matters.