A Michigan appeals court dismissed the case on a minor procedural technicality, one that did not warrant or require the court to dismiss. And, if that wasn't bad enough, the court decided to also address the substantive claims—and ruled against the children. The Detroit Free Press reports:
The lawsuit alleges violations of the prisoners' rights under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, but the appeals court said a 1999 amendment the Legislature made to the state civil rights law explicitly said the law does not apply to prisons.
The plaintiffs argued that amendment was unconstitutional because it denies prisoners equal protection under the law, and cited a 2007 federal court case, Mason v. Granholm, in which the judge ruled the 1999 amendment was unconstitutional.
But the court rejected the arguments. […]
The court said that prisoners don't seek out public services covered by the civil rights law in the way members of the general public do, but "are compelled to be there, and must be content, for the most part, with the services provided."
In other words, if you're raped and abused in prison, you just have to deal with it.
The boy who told the above story was 17 when he was raped. The Detroit News reports that he "stood about 5-foot-7 and weighed roughly 130 pounds, and said he was overpowered by a man who was 20 years older and outweighed him by as much as 50 pounds."
This is a horrifying but unsurprising story in Michigan, which has a terrible record on over incarceration and over-prosecution. Michigan ranks sixth in number of juveniles being housed in adult prisons. And although there are federal laws that require juveniles and adults to be separated by "sight and sound," the state has been sued on this very issue in the past.
As the Detroit News stated, "Few states are harder on sentencing teen offenders than Michigan." Michigan is one of the few states where prosecutors have the right to try someone as an adult regardless of their age.
It's also one of the only states where a prosecutor can file charges in adult court directly instead of going through the juvenile court system. Furthermore, Michigan is one of only four states where a judge cannot send a case back to juvenile court. Prosecutors in Michigan have all the power and all the discretion when it comes to juveniles.
This is the sad state of Michigan: Too much prosecutorial discretion, over-incarceration, child abuse and child rape, and abusive prison conditions. Not to mention that, in Michigan, black people make up 14 percent of the population but almost 50 percent of the prison population. Are you surprised?
Another appeal is in the works. Here's hoping that the state supreme court makes the right decision by rejecting the appeals court dismissal.
[The first sentence of this post has been changed to reflect that the plaintiffs do technically have potential legal recourse, as the court noted the potential availability for tort relief. However, such legal recourse would do nothing to address the institutions that allow for abuse and rape of children in Michigan prisons. A tort claim would only give plaintiffs potential monetary relief post-injury.]