LANSING, Mich. — The State of Michigan has reached an $80 million settlement in a lawsuit involving more than 1,300 prisoners who were allegedly sexually assaulted while in adult prisons.
The class-action lawsuit was filed in 2013 on behalf of over 1,300 prisoners in the Michigan Department of Corrections system. A settlement was announced Thursday that will be paid in installments over the next three years to a fund that will go to impacted inmates.
MDOC will implement a policy tailored to juvenile offenders to address segregation, discipline, use of force and staff training in the next six months. The department is also required to update its policy on reporting and tracking incidents of sexual abuse and harassment.
“I believe prisoners are entitled to be treated with respect and basic human dignity,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement. “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.”
Money will be paid first to crime victims who are still owed restitution, custodial parents who are owed child support and courts that used resources on a prisoner benefiting from the settlement.
MDOC says it was never able to corroborate the allegations made by plaintiffs about widespread sexual abuse in state prisons, but started taking steps to address the issue in 2015.
Starting in 2016, juvenile prisoners are housed in a special unit at a Lapeer prison that is separated from older prisoners. MDOC Director Heidi Washington is also asking legislators and courts to stop sending minors to adult prisons and allow younger prisoners to serve time in a facility meant for youthful offenders.
MDOC currently has roughly 38,000 prisoners, 29 of which are juvenile offenders.
The Washtenaw County Circuit Court will determine if the agreement between the state and prisoners is fair in an April 9 hearing.