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Juvenile prisoner sex abuse cases reach settlement after years of state opposition

Prison fence barbed wire
Kevin Rosseel
Michigan ranks fourth in the nation for prisoner rehabilitation

After a years-long battle, two class-action lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Corrections have reached a settlement. The lawsuits were brought by hundreds of juvenile prisoners who allege the MDOC failed to protect them against sexual abuse while serving time in adult prisons.

Read more: After years of state opposition, teens allegedly raped in adult prisons to get their day in court

The settlement encompasses two lawsuits, one in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and one in the Washtenaw Circuit Court. Gongwer News Service reports that the details of the settlement, including the amount of money the state will provide, were not released.

The cases, known as the John Does v. Michigan Department of Corrections cases, were filed seven years ago. The state fought vigorously against them, filing motion after motion and contesting them at every conceivable step. Eventually, the courts ruled the prisoners could sue under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act. 

In an interview with Statesidein July 2019, two juvenile prisoners detailed the abuse they suffered while serving time in adult prisons:

Dominic first went to a juvenile correctional facility at 14 years of age after being arrested for armed robbery. But after he entered an adult prison at 16, he says that correctional officers allowed other prisoners to enter his cell and sexually assault him. “I had to endure gang members trying to rape me, like actually breaking into my prison cell — the cell that I was supposed to be protected in by the correctional officers,” Dominic said. Elvir was 15 years old when he first entered prison after being convicted for home invasion. There, he says that he and other incarcerated minors experienced sexual harassment on a regular basis. Elvir says that he was sexually assaulted by a correctional officer. “It started from the gate. There was no pause throughout the whole time, there was no — there was no breath,” Elvir said. “It was rough. It was more than rough.”

Lead plaintiff attorney Deborah LaBelle said in the same interview that there are potentially more than 1,000 young men who experienced sexual abuse between the ages of 14 and 17 while incarcerated in adult prisons in the state, and more than 500 had come forward and reported their assaults.

When contacted by Michigan Radio on January 6, LaBelle said she was unable to comment on the settlement.

Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
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