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Transgender female inmate sues state prison system after allegedly raped in men's prison

Hands gripping jail cell bars

A transgender female prisoner has sued the Michigan Department of Corrections in federal court for its failure to protect her at the all-male G. Robert Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson County, where she had been housed.

The plaintiff, identified as Jane Doe, filed suit on March 2, 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The complaint alleges that she was raped and sexually assaulted in two separate incidents about four days apart in January 2020 after prison officials forced her to share a cell, in each case with a different known rapist, despite her repeated objections and her pleas that she was being threatened by the cell mate.

According to the complaint, prison officials mocked her pleas, refused to help her, threatened her with disciplinary action unless she returned to her cell, ignored an MDOC housing plan intended to protect her and undid a therapist's instruction to move her to protective custody.

"What this boils down to is that the Department of Corrections failed to abide by its own policies and orders," said Nakisha Chaney, attorney for the plaintiff. "As a direct result of that indifference and failure, our client was raped."

"Rape is never a part of a prison sentence," said Chaney. " Every prisoner has a constitutional right to be protected from rape, and every prison official has the duty to protect prisoners from rape and sexual abuse."

The lawsuit cites a 2009 report issued by the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, created by the U.S. Congress in 2003, that found, among other things, that male-to-female transgender women incarcerated in men's prisons are at a high risk of sexual violence.

Chris Gautz, spokesperson for the MDOC, declined to comment on pending litigation. 

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Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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