Finley: State should settle teen rape suit

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Stubborn or stupid? Or does the state of Michigan really believe it can prevail in lawsuits filed by 11 juvenile prison inmates who charge they weren't protected from being brutalized by adult prisoners?

If it's the latter, then state officials either haven't read the horrific evidence presented in the lawsuits, or learned nothing from a similar suit filed by women inmates and settled in 2009 for $100 million.

That $100 million would fill a lot of potholes.

As reported by The Detroit News, several of the young men claim they were turned into sex slaves while housed in the adult prisons, raped and passed around from inmate to inmate. Some contend they were abused with the knowledge of prison officials, and possibly with their help.

There may not be much sympathy in our society for prisoners, but jurors listening to boys retelling nightmarish stories might decide that rape is a cruel and unusual punishment for the crimes they committed.

Once the boys take the stand, the state may as well just get out its checkbook.

The outrage here — apart from the sexual abuse — is that the cases could have been settled years ago — and perhaps still could be settled today — by the state agreeing to fix the problem and get the kids who were abused the help they need. That's all the attorneys asked for before taking the matter to court.

Michigan is among the toughest states on juvenile criminals. It is one of just nine states where minors can automatically be tried as an adult, and one of just four that don't allow judges the ability to send a teen's case back to juvenile court.

The lawyers for the kids — the same team that represented the abused women — want the state to comply completely with a new federal rape protection law requiring juvenile inmates be separated from adults.

But instead of negotiating a settlement that makes sense for both the inmates and the state, Michigan is aggressively fighting the lawsuits, filing a couple of dozen appeals already of procedural rulings issued by the federal and Washtenaw Circuit courts.

This seems bone-headed. Fixing the things that led to the suit might not only save taxpayers from taking a financial hit, but is also the right thing to do. Children don't belong in prison with adults.

Some of the young offenders committed serious crimes; but many others are locked up for property offenses. One juvenile was sent to adult prison for stealing a bike.

Many end up behind bars because the counties in which they are convicted find it more economical to send them to prison at the state's expense than to place them on probation, which the counties must pay for.

While the intent of Michigan's ultra-tough juvenile sentencing laws is to deter crime, the reality is that teens too often come out of prison broken and bitter and more dangerous to society than when they went in.

The Corrections Dept. says the juveniles are making up their stories. It said the same thing about the women inmates.

It seems Michigan is again rolling the dice in a very expensive game.


Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at @nolanfinleydn, on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews and watch him at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays on "MiWeek" on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.