February 27, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington today announced the filing of a settlement document in the Doe et al. v. Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) cases, in which juveniles alleged they were victims of sexual assaults, and various other harms, while they were housed in adult prisons under the custody of the MDOC after being charged, convicted and sentenced as adults under Michigan law.
The case, originally filed in 2013, was a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 1,300 youthful prisoners.
Under the settlement agreement, the State will pay a total of $80 million in installments over the next three years. The MDOC will also implement a policy within six months specifically tailored to youthful offenders to address segregation, discipline, use of force, staff training and the reporting and tracking of incidents of sexual abuse and harassment above and beyond the protection of federal law.
"Our job here in the Department of Attorney General has been not only to represent the Michigan Department of Corrections but also to represent the People of Michigan. For the past 15 months, we have worked to review every aspect of this case and to determine every option available," said Nessel. "I believe prisoners are entitled to be treated with respect and basic human dignity. I know MDOC has made significant strides under the leadership of Director Washington and that the past seven years of litigation do not reflect the values of her administration or the current reality of life inside Michigan's prison system. My hope is that this settlement allows us to move forward and brings closure for the inmates who have spent years of their lives litigating this matter. There are far better ways for the State to use its resources than to continue to engage in lengthy litigation."
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The settlement requires that any crime victim who is still owed restitution; any custodial parent who is still owed child support; and any court that has extended resources to a prisoner benefiting from the settlement must be paid first out of settlement proceeds.
Because the case settles a class action lawsuit, class members have the opportunity to opt-out of the settlement or object to its contents.
The settlement will go before the Washtenaw County Circuit Court on April 9, and the court will determine if the agreement is fair, reasonable and in the best interest of the parties.
"While this case began before I became director of this department, it has been something I was determined to bring to an end," Washington said. "Though this settlement brings finality to this case, we call on the Legislature to bring this issue to an end once and for all and prohibit youthful offenders from being placed in adult prison."
The MDOC was never able to corroborate the allegations made by plaintiffs about widespread sexual abuse in state prisons. However, after the lawsuit was announced in 2013 and since Director Washington took office in 2015, the MDOC has taken several steps to address the issue.
In 2016, all male youthful offenders under the age of 18 were sent to one designated wing of the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, and are now housed in a special unit together at the prison, separately from older prisoners. Previously, a 17-year-old deemed an adult for purposes of criminal law could be housed with adults. All youthful female offenders have been separately housed from adult prisoners in a wing of the Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.
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In advance of receiving federal mandates from the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), the MDOC proactively created a PREA manual and has never failed a PREA audit, remaining in compliance with the act since the federal standards were given to the states in 2013.
While the plaintiffs in this case served the initial years of their sentences at the Thumb Correctional Facility, they were first sent to an intake facility in Jackson, which also processes adult prisoners; however, the youthful offenders were housed in a separate area under standard operating procedure. When Washington became director, she changed the intake facility for male youthful offenders to the Thumb Correctional Facility to further lessen interactions between youthful offenders and adult prisoners.
Washington is also calling on the Legislature and courts to end the practice of placing minors in adult prison, and allow younger prisoners to serve time in a facility meant for youthful offenders, similar to what other states permit.
The MDOC has roughly 38,000 prisoners, with 29 of them being youthful offenders. In recent years there have been as many as 90 youthful offenders at one time.
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