The Prisoners’ Rights Program works to improve conditions in Texas prisons and jails through litigation and advocacy. Over 200,000 people are incarcerated in Texas on any given day, and most do not have any access to attorneys. Prisoners tell TCRP horrific stories of wrongful deaths, denial of medical care, violations of due process, and excessive force every day.
TCRP only has the resources to represent less than one percent of the hundreds of prisoners who contact us each year for help. The Prisoners’ Rights Program concentrates on cases that will have broad impact by changing a policy or creating other systemic relief.
“You handled everything so wonderful. You was even able to sooth my broken heart. May God bless you.” – Former client whose daughter committed suicide in county jail.
Represented four children who were physically and sexually abused in the Texas Youth Commission in a suit where TYC paid clients $625,000 and agreed to make extensive changes to facilities outlined in a nine page document;
Filed suit on behalf of a magazine publisher in a suit where a large county jail banned inmates from receiving magazine Prison Legal News, forcing the jail to change its policy;
A mentally ill man committed suicide in a county jail after he was arrested for threatening to kill himself. The Prisoners’ Rights Program won a substantial monetary settlement for his surviving family and required the jail’s policies and training undergo a review by an independent expert;
A seriously mentally ill immigrant from Iran was arrested following a misunderstanding at a convenience store. During the months he spent in jail, he was denied treatment for his mental illness, and ultimately assaulted by two jail guards who punched him in the face and shaved off the beard he was growing for religious reasons. The Prisoners’ Rights Program won an $80,000 settlement;
An African-American prisoner was shocked in the back with a cattle prod by a guard yelling racial epithets. TCRP secured a settlement favorable to the client;
A prisoner suffered a fatal asthma attack while prison guards mocked him rather than summon medical attention. TCRP won a settlement favorable to his brother and grandmother.
In most cases, before TCRP can provide a prisoner legal assistance, the prisoner must use the grievance process for the facility they are incarcerated in to comply with the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Though many grievance systems are ineffective, an inmate must at least try to resolve a problem through the grievance process in most cases before legal action can be taken. Before contacting TCRP, make sure to submit grievances that comply with the prison or jail’s policies, and file any required appeals.
For inmates in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice: complete a Step 1 and Step 2 grievance, being careful to follow TDCJ’s grievance rules. Only address the issue you want assistance with, as each grievance can only address one issue. Make sure to file your grievance within 15 days of the event you are complaining about, or as soon as possible. Consult your TDCJ Offender Handbook for more information about how to file a grievance.
Family of TDCJ inmates can also contact TDCJ’s Ombudsman. Speaking with the Ombudsman does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If you wish to take legal action, you must also make sure Step 1 and Step 2 grievances have properly been filed in most cases.
For inmates in county jails: Every county jail in Texas has different grievance procedures. Knowing the procedures is important because an inmate cannot file a lawsuit challenging jail conditions without first filing grievances. Through open records requests, TCRP has obtained grievance policies and procedures for various county jails around the state. We are making the policies available on this website. We have also re-written the policies into easy-to-read step-by-step instructions. The step-by-step instructions on how to file grievances are available here:
TCRP Handbooks: How to File a Jail Grievance
SHG: Self-Help Guides prepared by TCRP attorneys
PIA: Jail Grievance documents obtained by TCRP through the Public Information Act requests.
Bell County (Temple)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 43 KB] Bexar County (San Antonio)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 15 KB] Blanco County (Johnson City)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 43 KB]
PIA Document: Blanco County Jail Grievance Form (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 161 KB] Burleson County (Caldwell)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 43 KB]
PIA Document: Burleson County Inmate Grievance Plan (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 8 KB] Burnet County (Burnet)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 45 KB] Caldwell County (Lockhart)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 42 KB]
PIA Document: Jail Handbook Grievance Procedures (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 7 KB] Cameron County (Brownsville)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 29 KB] Collin County (McKinney)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 15 KB]
PIA Document: Inmate Grievance Procedures (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request)
[PDF 2.6 MB]
Dallas County (Dallas)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 29 KB] Ector County (Odessa)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 43 KB] Harris County (Houston)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 15 KB]
PIA Document: Harris County Jail Inmate Handbook (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 2.6 MB] McLennan County (Waco)
TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 48 KB] Tom Green (San Angelo)
PIA Document: Grievance Plan (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 30 KB] Travis County (Austin) TCRP Self-Help Guide [PDF 28 KB] PIA Document: Travis County Jail Policies and Procedures (Obtained by TCRP via Public Information Request) [PDF 128 KB] NOTE: Please be sure to check your jail’s inmate handbook, as jail policies are subject to change.
All county jails are inspected annually by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. To report a problem to the Commission, you can complete an online form here. Contacting the Commission does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA. If you wish to take legal action, you must also make sure to follow the applicable policies in jail in most cases.
For inmates in the Texas Youth Commission: there are several options to file a grievance.
For children in TYC custody, grievance forms are available from the grievance clerk on each dorm. Request a form, complete it and place it in the secure drop box on the dorm. TYC has 15 days to respond to the grievance
For parents, guardians and other youth advocates: grievances can be submitted to TYC’s Incident Reporting Center.
If TYC does not satisfactorily respond to the grievance within 15 business days, the grievance must be appealed. Ask the individual facility who grievance appeals should be addressed to. If the appeal does not resolve the problem within 15 business days, another appeal must be filed with TYC’s executive director at TYC’s central office.
For more information about TYC’s process, see TYC’s website.
Children, family and youth advocates: can also contact the Office of the Independent Ombudsman, an independent watchdog agency supervising TYC. Speaking with the Ombudsman does not exhaust administrative remedies under the PLRA.
If you wish to take legal action, you must also make sure the above described grievance procedures have been completed in most cases.
Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook: The National Lawyers Guild together with the Center for Constitutional Rights distribute: The Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook: How to Bring a Federal Lawsuit to Challenge Violations of Your Rights in Prison. Please click here for more information.
To read more about TCRP’s Prisoners’ Rights Program, click here.