Second Circuit Brings Clarity to Exhaustion Requirement Under the PLRA

Second Circuit Brings Clarity to Exhaustion Requirement Under the PLRA

In 2019. PLS appeared as Amicus Curiae (friend of the court) in Dickinson v. Warren County Sheriff and Hayes v. T. Dahkle et. al., two cases that involved the issue of what constitutes exhaustion under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).

The facts in the cases involved the plaintiffs appealing the denials of their grievances to the highest level, but not receiving final decisions on any of their grievances within the regulatory time limit. The plaintiffs filed 1983 claims after the deadline for issuing a final decision had passed, but before receiving final grievance decisions. In response, the Defendants moved to dismiss on the grounds that both plaintiffs had failed to exhaust their administrative remedies as required under the PLRA. Plaintiffs lost in the district court and appealed to the Second Circuit.

Given PLS’ and the Legal Aid Society’s Prisoners’ Rights Project (PRP) familiarity with both the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and their Central Office Review Committee’s (CORC) longstanding practice of issuing final grievance decisions well beyond their own regulatory deadline, PLS and PRP prepared an Amicus submission for the Second Circuit.  

In preparation for the Amicus submission, we polled PLS staff attorneys regarding CORC delays they had observed in their cases. We collated this data was collated into a chart together data on CORC delays that was available in the District Court case law of the Second Circuit. We also reviewed data available online from DOCCS own grievance program reports, published from 2009 to 2013. Taken together, we ascertained that all three data sets demonstrated the same trend – the CORC began regularly failing to meet its own regulatory deadline to issue final decisions in 2010 and, these delays have grown steadily worse over time. Currently, delays of over a year are a regular occurrence.

In addition, drawing from recent Circuit and Supreme Court case law, we argued that since there is no administrative mechanism for a prisoner to address or otherwise compel the CORC into action once their deadline to render a decision has passed, exhaustion is complete at that point. Finally, we concluded that adopting a bright line rule, that exhaustion is complete once a grievance has been timely appealed to a final grievance body and that body’s time to render a decision has passed, facilitates judicial manageability.

The Second Circuit granted our motions requesting permission to submit the Amicus briefs and on February 26, 2020 oral arguments were conducted.


In October 2020 the Second Circuit decided both Hayes and Dickinson jointly.  Regarding the Amicus brief, the Court agreed with our position entirely and adopted a bright-line rule that incarcerated individuals have exhausted their administrative remedies under the PLRA once they have appealed to the CORC and the CORC’s time limit to render a decision has expired, regardless of whether the CORC issues a decision. This brings clarity to an issue of significant confusion for incarcerated persons, many of whom have previously had to wait months for the CORC to render decisions on their grievance appeals

PLS Launches the Pre-Release and Re-Entry Pilot Project

PLS Launches the Pre-Release and Re-Entry Pilot Project

In April, 2021, with funding from New York Community Trust, PLS launched our Pre-Release & Reentry Project, a holistic approach to reintegration focused on incarcerated individuals from the Bronx and New York County who are within six to 12 months of their maximum release date.


The PLS Newburgh office is home to PLS’ new Pre-Release and Re-Entry Pilot Project (PREP), a program that assists people scheduled to be released from prison on their maximum release date with pre-release planning and then works with them after their release to ensure their successful reintegration.  


PLS sends individuals who will soon be released to the Bronx or New York County a questionnaire designed to identify their needs and then selects those individuals who are most likely to benefit from our services. We then work with these individuals for six to 12 months prior to their release to prepare them for reintegration into their community. To maximize the likelihood of a successful transition, we focus on issues related to:


•         Pre and post release education and programming;

•         Discharge planning relating to medical and mental health care;

•         Locating housing;

•         Procuring legal documentation;

•         Assisting with job placement;

•         Resolving immigration issues;

•         Obtaining benefits;

•         Re-establishing family connections; and

•         Connecting our clients with available resources in the Bronx and New York City, such as SoBro, the Fortune Society, Osborne Association and the Doe Foundation. 


We support our clients for up to a three-year period after their release, encouraging them to give back to the programs that support them and serve as mentors to newly released individuals. We also compile statistics relating to recidivism, thereby allowing us to assess the success of the program and, where necessary, modify it to be more supportive.

DOCCS Announces Vaccination Campaign

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Announces Vaccination Campaign

On June 30, 2021, DOCCS Commissioner Anthony Annucci announced incentives to encourage people in prison to get vaccinated. Going forward, DOCCS will randomly select five fully vaccinated people from each facility to receive a care package worth up to $75.00. The care package will consist of the most popular food items sold in the commissary at the prison where the individual is living. In addition, upon completion of the vaccination campaign, DOCCS will award a facility barbecue to vaccinated people at six facilities with the highest rate of vaccination. Two facilities will be selected from each of the categories described below:

Category 1 – incarcerated population capacity 800 and above

Category 2 – incarcerated population capacity 400 – 799

Category 3 – incarcerated population capacity 399 and below

NYDOCCS Vaccination Incentive

Catherine Ryan – Staff Attorney

Catherine (Kate) Ryan

Staff Attorney

(845) 391-3110 ext 1502


Photo of Catherine (Kate) Ryan

Catherine (Kate) Ryan, joined PLS in 2021 after receiving her JD from CUNY School of Law in 2020. During her time at CUNY, she interned with the ACLU Criminal Law Reform Project, worked with incarcerated clients through the Defenders clinic, and assisted with research on the impacts of gang policing and prosecution in New York City. She is also a partner in Binnacle Books, an independent bookstore in Beacon, NY, and is a founder of the collectively-run Beacon Prison Books Project.

Lawrence Bartley

Lawrence Bartley

Board member

Lawrence Bartley is the founder and director of “News Inside,” the print publication of The Marshall Project which is distributed in hundreds of prisons and jails throughout the United States.  News Inside is the recipient of the 2020 Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media. He is also the host and executive producer of Inside Story, a video series delivering trustworthy reporting on the criminal justice system to people in prisons, jails and the broader public. Lawrence was a member of the teams behind “The Zo,” winner of the 2020 Oline Journalism Award for “Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling” and “What Do We Really Know About the Politics of People Behind Bars?” which was an honorable mention recipient for the 2020 Phillip Meyers Awards. He is also an accomplished public speaker and has provided multimedia content for CNN, PBS, NBC Nightly News, MSNBC and more.