State to pay $80M settlement in juvenile prison rape case

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    Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, along with Michigan Department of Corrections (DOC) Director Heidi Washington announced Thursday that they are filing a settlement document in the Doe et al. vs. Michigan Department of Corrections case.

    The case, filed in 2013 on behalf of 1,300 youthful prisoners, pertains to juveniles alleging that they were victims of sexual assaults and harmed while they were detained in adult prisons under the custody of the DOC after being charged, convicted and sentenced as adults under Michigan law.  

    As previously reported by the Advance, the lawsuit also alleges the prison staff’s indifference — and sometimes participation — in the rape or sexual harassment of teenage prisoners. 

    The parties issued a joint statement: “Today the parties announce they have settled the John Doe et al. v. Michigan Department of Corrections cases out of court. The Department has taken proactive steps to address issues raised in the lawsuit and, through the settlement agreement, has agreed to additional measures. The parties look forward to putting this litigation to an end and begin the process of moving forward.”

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    Under the settlement agreement, the state will pay a total of $80 million in installments over the next three years, and the DOC will 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.

    “While this case began before I became director of this department, it has been something I was determined to bring to an end,” said Washington.

    Department of Corrections Director Heidi Washington | Casey Hull

    Since she took over the department in 2015, the DOC said it has taken several steps to address the issue. 

    According to the DOC, plaintiffs in the case served the initial years of their sentences at the Thumb Correctional Facility, but 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. 

    Washington changed the intake facility for male youthful offenders to the Thumb Correctional Facility to lessen interactions between youthful offenders and adult prisoners. Additionally, male youthful offenders under the age of 18 were sent to one designated wing of the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer beginning in 2016 and are now housed in a special unit at the prison, separate from older prisoners. All youthful female offenders have been housed separately from adult prisoners in a wing of the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti.  

    Madeline Ciak
    Madeline Ciak is a former Michigan Advance reporter. She’s a University of Michigan-Flint graduate and previously worked as a digital media manager at NBC25/FOX66 in Flint and a weekend producer at ABC12.