A Guide to the Grievance Process
For People at King County Correctional Facility and Regional Justice Center
This guide provides information about how people may use the grievance process at King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) and the Regional Justice Center Detention Facility (RJC). The AVID Program of Disability Rights Washington provides information and assistance to people incarcerated at these jails. The AVID Program hopes this guide will help people and their advocates better understand and exercise their rights.
AVID is a program of Disability Rights Washington, an independent, private, non-profit organization designated as Washington’s protection and advocacy agency, and mandated to protect the rights of people with disabilities statewide. DRW’s mission is to advance the dignity, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities.
This guide is based on the policies and guidelines of the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention and the Jail Health Services division of the Seattle-King County Public Health Department.
Table of Contents
How is a grievance different from a kite?
Tips for using the grievance process
Other options for complaint resolution
Who is this guide for?
- Incarcerated people at King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) in downtown Seattle and the Regional Justice Center (RJC) in Kent;
- Family, friends, and advocates of people incarcerated at KCCF and RJC;
- Community service providers with clients held at KCCF and RJC.
KCCF serves King County and is located in downtown Seattle. RJC generally serves south King County and is located in Kent. Both facilities house people detained pre-trial and people serving sentences of up to one year. In this guide, KCCF and RJC are referred to jointly as “King County Jail.” The policies described in this guide apply to both KCCF and RJC.
The Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) is the King County department that operates King County Jail. This guide refers to DAJD policies to mean the general or custody policies at King County Jail.
Jail Health Services (JHS) provides health care at King County Jail. JHS is a division of the Seattle-King County Public Health Department. This guide refers to “JHS” and a “JHS provider” to mean someone who works for JHS and is responsible for healthcare at King County Jail.
This guide refers to the use of “kites” to communicate with DAJD and JHS. A kite is a written form provided by the jail for use in submitting questions or sharing information with the jail. JHS provides specific medical kites for people to submit questions or concerns about health related issues. JHS will then sometimes respond to a kite in writing through a “reverse kite.”
This guide addresses the rights of people to access the grievance process at King County Jail. Specifically, this guide provides information about how people may seek to communicate and resolve their complaints regarding jail conditions and health care.
This guide is based on the following jail policies:
- DAJD Policy01.001 (“Inmate Kites”);
- DAJD Policy04.002 (“Inmate Grievance Procedures”);
- JHS Policy J-A-10 (“Grievance Process for Health Care Complaints”);
- DAJD Inmate Information
What is a grievance?
A grievance is a formal, written complaint.
Jail grievance procedures provide people with a method for seeking resolution to a specific complaint or concern about their treatment in jail.
There are two types of grievances, a “general grievance” and a “medical grievance.” A description of the process for filing general grievances is described on page 7 and for filing medical grievances on page 11.
Why submit a grievance?
Submitting a grievance will generally lead to an examination or investigation of a person’s complaint and may lead to resolution of the complaint.
Submitting a grievance may also be useful for:
- Creating a written record of the complaint;
- Obtaining a written response to the complaint;
- Meeting the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) requirement of exhaustion of administrative
The PLRA is a federal law that governs lawsuits about prisons and jails in federal court. The PLRA requires that people in prisons and jails exhaust available administrative remedies like grievances before filing a lawsuit in federal court. This means that before an individual may file a lawsuit related to prison or jail conditions under any federal law, such as Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, they must use the jail’s grievance and appeals procedure up to the highest level.
If an individual fails to state a particular complaint in their original grievance, a court may later consider this complaint “unexhausted.” It is important to be as thorough as possible when drafting grievances.
People looking to file a lawsuit may wish to talk to an attorney about exhaustion of remedies and any other requirements before filing a Section 1983 claim or any other claim in federal or state court. People may also wish to talk to an attorney about specific timeframes or deadlines (also known as statutes of limitations) for filing complaints with government agencies or for filing lawsuits. Failure to comply with exhaustion requirements, statutes of limitations, or other requirements may result in losing the right to file a lawsuit.
How is a grievance different from a kite?
Kites are used to make requests, while grievances are used to make complaints.
Kites are generally a faster method of resolving ongoing issues in jail and can be a good first step to take before filing a grievance. Two examples of using kites and grievances are given below:
If someone wants to be transferred from an administrative segregation unit to a general population unit, they could submit a kite requesting a classification review and transfer to a general population unit. If classification staff deny the request or do not respond to the kite, the person may wish to submit a grievance about the denial or failure to respond.
If someone feels that they need mental health medication that the jail is not providing, they could submit a medical kite making a specific request for the medication. If jail health staff deny the request or do not respond to the kite, the person may wish to submit a medical grievance about the denial or failure to respond.
Kites at King County Jail
There are five types of kites at King County Jail:
Classification Kites (Green)
Used to request assistance with classification issues, including special housing needs, requests for reclassification of housing assignments, disability-related accommodations, protective custody, keep-separate issues, and requests to be considered for the inmate worker program
Medical Kites (Beige)
Used to request assistance with medical, dental, or mental health issues.
Service Request Kites (White)
Used to request assistance with all other issues or problems, including criminal charge information, food services, account information, religious services, educational and chemical dependency treatment programs, law library, recreation, court services, commissary, etc.
Special Diet Kites (Yellow)
Used to make vegan/vegetarian and religious diet requests.
Release Planning Kites (Yellow)
Used to request pre-release services to individuals who have mental health, substance abuse and/or medical needs at release. Release planners can help set up doctor’s appointments, substance abuse treatment and other social services in the community.
People may submit kites by delivering them to the Deck Officers or placing them in the appropriate kite box. People may also deliver medical kites to JHS staff during “sick call” at KCCF or place medical kites in the medical kite boxes at RJC.
Responses to Kites
DAJD and JHS policies do not require that all kites receive a response in writing.
In order for a grievance to be accepted at King County Jail, the grievance must satisfy the following requirements:
1. The issue must be grievable
People may submit grievances on any of the following issues:
- Jail facility conditions;
- Actions or behavior by staff members, cellmates, or others; and
- Jail procedures and practices that personally affect the
Examples of grievable issues:
- An individual is denied mental health care that they believe they need;
- An individual is denied participation in an educational or work program;
- An individual is denied outdoor recreation time;
- An individual is assaulted by a staff member or cellmate.
People at King County Jail may not submit grievances on the following issues:
- Disciplinary actions, a guilty finding in a disciplinary action, or sanctions imposed via the disciplinary process;
There is a separate appeals process for disciplinary matters. See pages 13-19 of the Inmate Handbook for more information about the disciplinary process.
- Matters beyond the control of the jail;
This includes matters occurring outside of the jail, such as complaints about police misconduct or about a public defender.
- Planned events that have not yet occurred;
The Inmate Handbook states that people may not grieve events that have not yet occurred. However, if a decision has been made that will go into effect at a future date, an individual may not have to wait until that future date to file a grievance. Instead, the person may file a grievance regarding the decision itself. For instance, if staff inform someone that a decision was made to transfer them to more restrictive housing, that person could immediately file a grievance about the jail’s decision rather than waiting for the transfer to happen first.
- Issues affecting another person.
People may only grieve issues that affect them personally. For example, someone may not grieve JHS’s decision not to provide their cellmate with prescribed psychiatric medication. However, people can grieve issues affecting them that involve another person. To use the above example, a person can grieve being housed with a cellmate whose actions are unpredictable because they are not receiving appropriate mental health care. The grievance should request a change of housing for the person filing the grievance, and not medication for the cellmate.
2. Most grievances must be submitted within 14 calendar days of when the relevant incident occurred
Exceptions: This requirement does not apply to medical grievances and grievances alleging sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and/or sexual harassment. In such cases, no time limit is imposed.
General grievance procedures
1. First try resolve the complaint informally
This means talking to jail staff about the issue or submitting a kite about the issue (see Kites at King County Jail section above). An attempt at informal resolution may resolve the issue more quickly and is generally required before submitting a grievance.
Exception: There is no informal resolution requirement for complaints about a
specific staff member or allegation of sexual misconduct, sexual abuse, and/or sexual harassment.
People may wish to document attempts to resolve the issue with a staff member. Make a note of the date, time, staff name, and result, so that this information may be included in a future grievance.
If the issue has not been resolved by the staff member, or the exception above applies, the person may file a grievance.
2. Obtain and complete a grievance form
Grievances should be available in housing units. If a person does not have access to a grievance form, they may request one from a staff member.
The DAJD inmate handbook recommends including the following information:
- The date the incident or problem occurred;
- A detailed description of the complaint;
- A description of the proposed remedy or resolution;
- The name of the staff member with whom the person tried to resolve the issue and the date that this attempt was made;
- The person’s full name (no initials);
- The person’s signature;
- The date when the form was submitted
Note: If someone needs help writing a grievance due to a disability, including a mental health condition, they may wish to describe their request for help to staff as a request for accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Only write about one issue per grievance form. For instance, if someone has complaints about delays in receiving a psychiatric appointment and about a denial of their psychiatric medication, they may wish to submit two separate medical grievances. If someone has complaints about their placement in administrative segregation and about the jail’s failure to provide them with an accessible shower for their physical disability, they may wish to submit two separate grievances. If an individual needs help with writing or submitting a grievance, they may wish to request help from a trusted staff member or other person.
3. Submit the grievance form
Submit the grievance form in the grievance lock box within the unit. People who do not have access to the lock box may submit grievances to a staff member. Please be aware that there is a separate process for submitting medical grievances. (See Medical grievances, pg.11.)
Submit the grievance form within 14 calendar days of when the relevant incident happened.
Note: If an individual wishes to file a grievance after they are released from jail, they may submit the grievance in person to jail staff or by mail.
4. Grievances will usually be reviewed and responded to in writing by a supervisor within ten days from the date of submission
A person who has filed a grievance should receive a copy of their original grievance form with a written response within ten days after submitting the grievance. If a grievance requires more time to investigate, the person will be notified of the need for an extension and the expected date of the response in writing.
As a part of the grievance investigation, jail staff may interview staff members or anyone else who is involved in the issue. Investigations may also involve reviewing logbooks, reports, or other documentation related to the incident.
While jail staff are investigating a grievance, filing any additional grievances on the same issue could result in disciplinary action. If the person would like an update on what the jail is doing with their grievance, or if they want to be sure the jail received the grievance, they may wish to submit a kite requesting this information.
Note: If someone is released before the grievance response is provided, or if the person submitted the grievance after release, the person may request their grievance response at the jail or by mail.
Note: Grievances alleging excessive use of force, sexual misconduct, sexual abuse and/or sexual harassment are handled the same way as general grievances, but will receive additional review by the Major. Final DAJD decisions will be issued for these cases within 90 days of the initial filing of the grievance, with a possible time extension of up to 70 additional days.
The person may submit an appeal within 5 calendar days of receiving the grievance response
If a person who has filed a grievance is dissatisfied with the response to their grievance, they may wish to submit an appeal. If someone decides to submit an appeal, their grievance will be reviewed again and will be investigated and responded to by a different staff member than the one who investigated and responded to the initial grievance.
People must appeal a grievance response within 5 calendar days of receiving the grievance response.
In an appeal, people must:
- Present new information now available that was not known or considered at the time of the first response, or
- Identify a specific error that was made by the staff who originally reviewed the staff who originally reviewed the grievance.
People must submit an appeal to the grievance response by writing their appeal in the space provided on the original grievance form. People should not use a new form to submit an appeal.
5. Appeals will be reviewed and responded to, in writing, within 20 days of submission
After an appeal is accepted, the jail will review it and respond. If the jail needs more time to investigate an appeal, the jail will notify the person of the extension in writing. This notification will explain the reasons for the extension and provide an approximate date that the jail will finish investigating.
There is only one level of appeal. The jail’s response to an appeal is the final stage of the grievance procedure. Submitting any additional grievance on the issue may result in disciplinary action.
Tips for writing grievances
When writing a grievance, a person may wish to briefly describe:
1. The nature of the complaint
- Describe the complaint accurately and
- Explain how the writer is personally affected by the issue.
- Use clear and simple language.
2. The desired remedy
- The writer should be as specific as possible in describing the outcome they are
3. Steps already taken to try to resolve the issue
- With whom the writer spoke and
- What that person did in
4. Names of individuals involved or witnesses
- If the writer does not know the names of the involved individuals or witnesses, they should describe the person in as much detail as possible.
5. Relevant dates and times
- The writer should try to be specific about relevant dates and times.
- Write about one complaint per grievance. If a person has more than one complaint, they should submit separate
- Refrain from using disrespectful, vulgar (such as curse words), or threatening language, as this could result in disciplinary action or in the jail deciding not to consider or investigate the grievance.
Tips for writing an appeal:
- Only discuss the same single issue that was addressed in the original
- Explain the reasons for submitting the appeal (including whether the appeal is based on new information that was not known at the time of the original grievance investigation or on a mistake made by the person who originally reviewed the grievance).
Tips for using the grievance process:
- Submit grievances as soon as possible.
- Make a note of the date when the grievance or appeal was
- Follow up, via kite or verbal request for an update if no response is received within the established
- Save copies of grievances, grievance responses, responses to appeals and any notices of extension, if If the writer is not given a copy, they may wish to consider making handwritten copies of both the grievances and responses.
- Avoid what King County Jail considers to be “abusing or misusing” the grievance procedure, as doing so may lead the jail to stop the grievance investigation or to use disciplinary action against the King County Jail provides a list of what it considers abuse or misuse of the grievance procedure in the Inmate Handbook. This includes: giving false information, using the grievance process to harass others, using obscene or threatening words, and filing more grievances about the same complaint while an investigation is ongoing or after a final response has been received.
- Retaliation by jail staff or obstruction/hindrance of participation in the grievance process is not allowed, and is a grievable issue.
Example of retaliation
(“getting back” at someone):
A staff member restricts the amount of time a person may spend outside of their cell, as a result of their filing a grievance.
Example of obstruction or hindrance
(making it difficult or impossible to file a grievance):
A staff member refuses to provide someone a grievance form.
If someone feels they are being retaliated against for filing a grievance, the person may submit a grievance about the retaliation.
There is a separate process for kites and grievances regarding medical and mental health care issues.
Medical kites are used to make health care requests (such as a request for medication or a request to be seen by a medical provider). Medical grievances are used to make formal written complaints related to health care services in the jail.
An individual may wish to submit a medical kite or discuss the issue during sick call. Submitting a medical kite or discussing the issue with JHS staff during the sick call process may resolve the issue more quickly.
If someone is not satisfied with the response to their medical kite, then they may wish to submit a medical grievance.
Medical grievance procedures
1. Request and complete a medical grievance form
The writer should list similar information as in a general grievance, including relevant dates, times, names, attempts to discuss the issue with JHS staff, a description of the issue, and what the writer wants to happen.
2. Submit a medical grievance form directly to JHS
At KCCF, people may submit their medical grievance forms directly to JHS staff and through inmate mail. At RJC, people may also place completed medical grievances in the medical kite/grievance box. Unlike the general grievance process, there is no time limit for submitting a medical grievance.
3. The grievance will be reviewed and responded to by JHS staff within 10 business days
The writer will be notified in writing if extra time is required to investigate the issue.
4. The writer may submit an appeal
If a person is dissatisfied with the medical grievance response they receive, they may submit an appeal. Unlike the general grievance process, there is no time limit for submitting an appeal of a medical grievance response.
The writer may appeal the medical grievance response by filling out the appeal section of the original medical grievance form.
The appeal will be reviewed and responded to within 10 days of submission. If JHS needs more time to investigate an appeal, JHS will notify the writer of the extension in writing.
Tips when requesting mental health treatment in a medical kite or grievance
- The writer should describe their current symptoms in as much detail as possible, using clear and simple language.
- If the writer has received an official mental health diagnosis in the past, they should report the diagnosis, the provider who made the diagnosis, and when the diagnosis was made.
- The writer should describe the mental health treatment they have received in the past, including prescription medication, when it was received, and how it was or was not effective.
Other options for complaint resolution
If the grievance process does not resolve the complaint, there are other options available for complaint resolution, including:
1. Contact the King County Office of the Ombuds
People may wish to contact the King County Ombuds. The King County Ombuds is a resource for people who are having difficulty resolving complaints or concerns with a King County agency or employee – including King County Jail and its staff. The Ombuds may help resolve the complaint by providing information and referrals or other assistance, or by conducting an investigation and making recommendations to the jail.
Prior to contacting the Ombuds, people should first try to resolve their complaints or concerns directly with the jail through the kite or grievance process, unless they feel that doing so might put them in danger or it is a medical emergency.
How to Contact the King County Ombuds
Call: (206) 477-1050
The Ombudsman’s Office accepts collect calls from jail.
Write: Office of the Ombuds
Dexter Horton Building
710 Second Avenue, Suite 790
Seattle, WA 98104
Be sure to label any mail to the Office of the Ombuds as “Legal Mail.”
Provide the Ombuds with as many details about the complaint as possible, including the time, date, and location of the incident, and the names of any involved officers, health care providers, and/or other people.
2. Contact the King County Office of Civil Rights (OCR)
People may wish to file a complaint with the King County Office of Civil Rights (OCR). OCR has authority to accept and investigate discrimination complaints against King County agencies regarding disability access (referred to by OCR as a disability grievance) and regarding discrimination based on race, color, national origin, or sex (referred to by OCR as a “Title VI” complaint).
How to Contact OCR
Call: (206) 263-2446
OCR accepts collect calls from jail. If OCR staff are not available to answer the call, people may leave a message on the free message line at (206) 205-5248. To place a call to the message line, people should enter their PIN number and, when asked for the number you want to dial, press 24#. In their message, people may wish to give their name, booking number, and a detailed message about their disability or “Title VI” complaint.
Write: King County Office of Civil Rights CNK-ES-0215, Legal Mail
401 Fifth Avenue, Suite 215
Seattle, WA 98104-1818
Be sure to label any mail to the King County Office of Civil Rights as “Legal Mail.”
Provide OCR with as many details about the complaint as possible, including the time, date, and location of the incident, and the names of any involved officers, health care providers, and/or other people. People may also wish to explain how the complaint relates to discrimination based on disability or on race, color, national origin, or sex.
3. File a complaint against Jail Health Services or an individual health care provider in the jail with the Washington State Department of Health
The Washington State Department of Health is responsible for the licensing and certification of certain medical providers and health care facilities, and investigates complaints regarding the quality of care. If interested, you may contact DRW for a form to file a complaint with the Washington State Department of Health.
4. Foreign nationals (individuals who are not U.S. citizens) may wish to contact their consulate
5. Contact AVID
The AVID Program of Disability Rights Washington provides information and assistance to people with disabilities and their loved ones to help them advocate for themselves at King County Jails. Visit https://www.disabilityrightswa.org/programs/avid/ for more information. Contact the AVID Program confidentially to request assistance or to make a referral or report:
This information is a service of Disability Rights Washington. It provides general information as a public service only, and is not legal advice. If you need legal advice, you should contact an attorney. You do not have an attorney-client relationship with DRW. Always advocate in a timely manner. Please be aware that there are certain time limits or deadlines to file a complaint, a lawsuit, or take legal action.
To receive this information in an alternative format, such as large print or Braille, please call DRW at the numbers above.
Disability Rights Washington is an independent, private, non-profit organization designated as Washington’s protection and advocacy agency, and mandated to protect the rights of people with disabilities statewide. DRW’s mission is to advance the dignity, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities. DRW was formerly known as Washington Protection and Advocacy System. DRW is a member of the National Disability Rights Network. A significant portion of the DRW budget is federally funded. Permission to reprint this publication is granted by the author, provided that the publication is distributed free and with attribution.
This guide is current as of September 2019.