ATLANTA – Today, the ACLU and ACLU of Georgia filed an appeal brief to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of Jeffery Geter, a mentally disabled man who is seeking proper medical care at Baldwin State Prison. The ACLU seeks reversal of a lower court decision that refused to hear his claims. Because of a bureaucratic technicality on a form that Mr. Geter submitted, the prison rejected his request for medical help. The lower court ruled that because of this technicality, Mr. Geter had forfeited his right to vindicate his rights in court.
The Prison Litigation Reform Act requires prisoners to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking redress in court—but only if those remedies are available. Prison grievance systems often contain a gauntlet of rigid timelines, content requirements, and procedural rules. The rules can stymie prisoners with serious mental illness or intellectual disabilities like Jeffery Geter.
Due to his mental illness and disabilities, Mr. Geter relied on a prison staff member for assistance, only to see her bungle his grievance and cause it to be rejected on procedural grounds. This case is about whether remedies are available when serious mental illness and intellectual disabilities — combined with misleading assistance from prison staff — make remedies impossible.
“Discriminating against people with mental disabilities is unconstitutional and immoral. Bureaucratic technicalities on a form should never prevent anyone from receiving the medical attention they need,” stated Sean J. Young, Legal Director of the ACLU of Georgia.