Appealing to Justice: Prisoner Grievances, Rights, and Carceral Logic, by Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness, ISBN: 978-0520284180, University of California Press, 2014, 264 pages, $70 hardcover, $29.89 e-book.
Review by Allison Miller
Kitty Calavita and Valerie Jenness are professors at UC Irvine, where they teach criminology. In the book Appealing to Justice, they explore the grievance system in California and give a look into the lives of prisoners, one of the most marginalized and oppressed groups in America. Throughout the eight chapters, they look into inmate rights and the hundreds of grievances that inmates file every year. Each grievance has to go through several layers of review, which leads to infringement of prisoner rights and safety.
California has 33 prisons, all of which are overpopulated. The two authors look not just at one person’s perspective, but at the perspective of prisoners, correctional officers, and Inmate Appeals Branch (IAB) staff members. Prisoners suffer from 114 degree cells, inadequate medical care, and theft of personal property.
One right that prisoners have to address these problems is the grievance. Some prisoners do not file grievances, because they are afraid of what officers will do to them or they consider the grievance system to be something of a joke. In the first case, correctional officers can easily create situations that may extend their time in jail, and those who think that people in prison are spoiled with more rights than some people who are not in jail can make incarceration more difficult. Despite this threat, other prisoners take complete advantage of their right and file grievances frequently, looking to correctional staff who believe that prisoners do have a right to file a grievance.
IAB members tend not to be supportive or retributive, focusing on the efficiency of the process in deciding to grant, half grant, or dismiss a grievance. Their decisions depend on the statute of limitations, timely filing of a grievance, evidence provided, and testimony of the correction officers. IAB workers also need to make sure they make the right decisions to protect themselves if any of these prisoners were to take them to court.
After reading this book, I gained a better understanding of what takes place when a prisoner files a grievance, and the struggle it is to get their voice heard in prison. I understand that they committed a crime, and they should have to do the time and punishment associated with it; however, that punishment should not include extreme living conditions that have a negative impact on health. Being an inmate should not mean risk to life or property. The grievance system may be imperfect, but it is a positive step toward justice inside the prison and promotes a degree of human dignity in the most inhumane conditions.
I highly recommend this book to any social work students or anyone interested in becoming a social worker. As a social work student, I found that this book spoke to me. It made me realize how unaware I was of the sad condition inside prisons and made me want to go out and advocate for prisoners. As social workers, it is our job to work for the well-being of others. Prisoners need good social workers to help them through their difficult times in prison and after prison.
Reviewed by Allison Miller, undergraduate social work student at the University of South Dakota.