DETROIT - The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief today arguing that an important legal settlement designed to protect women prisoners from sexual abuse and assault by male corrections officers should be upheld.
""Without the proper security measures, female inmates are often subject to sexual threats, propositions, groping, and rape by male prison officers,"" said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan. ""The settlement reached two years ago provides women prisoners added protection from sexual intimidation and violence by the very people who are supposed to look after them.""
The ACLU's legal brief was spurred by a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by male corrections officers of the Michigan Department of Corrections. The officers argued that they are being discriminated against because they are no longer allowed to hold positions that allow them access to prison facilities where women inmates perform their most intimate activities.
In March 1996, several female inmates filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that the corrections officials had violated the civil rights of women prisoners by permitting guards to use their positions of authority to sexually assault and harass female inmates and to retaliate against those inmates who complained about such treatment. The following year, the U.S. Department of Justice filed its own action against the Michigan under the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act, alleging pervasive sexual misconduct against women prisoners.
A settlement in both cases was reached two year later, under which corrections officials agreed to exclude male officers from female inmates' housing units where the women were more vulnerable to sexual abuse by guards.
The restrictions decided upon in the settlement applied to 250 of the 10,000 job positions held by correctional officers. Of those 250 positions, only 50 to 100 were held by men at the time.
Following the settlement, several male corrections officers filed a lawsuit arguing that the settlement violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it deprives them of employment opportunities on the basis of their gender.
The ACLU's friend of the court brief opposes the argument put forth by the corrections officers.
""Given that the Michigan Department of Corrections' own zero tolerance policies regarding sexual assault have not worked, excluding male officers from female housing is the only way to ensure that female inmates will be free from sexual abuse,"" Moss said.
The Women's Lawyers Association of Washtenaw County and American Friends Service Committee joined the ACLU in submitting the friend of the court brief.