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Raising shackles



As soon as a federal judge declared unconstitutional Michigan's law preventing prisoners from suing for violations of their civil rights — as in when they're sexually assaulted — the state of Michigan appealed the decision.

"We believe the judge incorrectly applied the law in the case," says Matt Frendewey, a spokesman for Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

Sounds to us like Cox is being a real dick on this one.

The case involves a group of women prisoners who say they were sexually abused by prison guards and didn't get any justice through the Michigan Department of Corrections grievance system. They wanted to do what any other group of citizens could do: Sue.

Except that under a 2000 provision of Michigan civil rights law, they can't. So they challenged the provision as unconstitutional.

And U.S. District Judge John Corbett O'Meara agreed.

"It appears that the state Legislature has not attempted to deter frivolous lawsuits, but rather preclude meritorious ones," the judge wrote. "Given the state's abhorrent and well-documented history of sexual and other abuse of female prisoners, the court finds this amendment particularly troubling."

What happens next is uncertain. Don't be surprised if the state seeks to stop the case from moving pending a decision on the appeal.

The suit reflects decades of well-documented problems in the state corrections system.

Deborah LaBelle, the lead attorney for the prisoners, says given the number of people in Michigan's corrections system — about 51,000 — the case has widespread implications.

"It affects a broad group of people," she says. "I think it's somehow embedded in the culture of abuse they've fostered and have been reluctant to stop."

Rep. Paul Condino (D-Southfield), chair of the Michigan House Judiciary Committee, says the law should be changed.

"I'm glad I was not part of the Legislature that created this," he tells News Hits. "We should look for ways of protecting inmates."

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or

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