Michigan will pay $80 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the state’s Department of Corrections (MDOC) in 2013 by a group of juvenile offenders who said they were sexually assaulted while housed in adult prisons.
The deal will put an end to more than six years of litigation, Attorney General Dana Nessel announced Thursday. Under the agreement, the state will pay a total of $80 million in installments over the next three years.
The original lawsuit was first filed in 2013 on behalf of more than 1,300 youthful prisoners who said they were sexually assaulted or harassed while in MDOC’s custody. They were placed in adult prisons after being charged, convicted, and sentenced as adults, and accused MDOC of failing to prevent the assaults.
MDOC has denied the allegations contained in the lawsuit and attempted to fight it off in court. Nessel’s office said Thursday that the MDOC was “never able to corroborate the allegations made by plaintiffs about widespread sexual abuse in state prisons.”
She said the settlement allows the state “to move forward and brings closure for the inmates who have spent years of their lives litigating this matter.”
“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.
According to the Associated Press, as many as 1,000 people could seek a share of the settlement, which the state will have no involvement in distributing. An estimated $26 million of the settlement will go to the legal team.
MDOC Director Heidi Washington said all male youthful offenders under the age of 18 were sent to one designated wing of the Thumb Correctional Facility in 2016 and are now housed in a special unit separate from adult prisoners. Female teens are also jailed separately from adults at the state’s only women’s prison in Ypsilanti.
Washington called on the State Legislature and the courts to end the practice of placing minors in adult prisons and allow younger prisons to serve time in separate facilities.
“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.”
According to Nessel’s office, 29 of the state’s 38,000 inmates are currently under the age of 18. She said 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 the settlement proceeds.
In a similar case, Michigan paid $100 million in a 2009 settlement to female prisoners who said they were assaulted and harassed by male guards.
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, said Nessel.
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