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Michigan Court of Appeals rules inmates sentenced as children have the right to sue for abuse

Prison bars
flickr user Thomas Hawk

The Michigan Court of Appeals says inmates sentenced to prison as children can sue the state over allegations they were beaten and sexually abused. The lawsuit says the assaults were committed by other inmates and prison staff.

The state tried to have the case dismissed under a 1999 amendment to Michigan’s civil rights law. The court said it’s unconstitutional to bar inmates from filing civil rights claims against the state.

Deborah LaBelle is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We filed this case in 2013, and we’ve been trying to get to trial for five years almost, and, so, hopefully, we go back and have an opportunity to go before a jury and present the case,” she says.

The lawsuit alleges that inmates aged 13 to 17 years old were sexually abused and assaulted by other prisoners and Corrections Department staff. The state attorney general will decide whether to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.

LaBelle adds inmates do not lose all their rights when they are sent to prison.

“You can take away people’s freedom, of course. That’s their punishment. But while they’re in there, you can’t deprive them of all civil rights protections,” she says.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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