Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


Retaliation, for the purposes of this report, is any act by a corrections officer, corrections employee, or official aimed at an inmate in order to punish her for having reported abuse or in order to keep her from reporting abuse. Here we document specific acts of retaliation against women who have spoken out against sexual abuse by guards as well as the chilling impact retaliation has had on other inmates who now fear reporting any abuse. It is clear that retaliation is a serious problem in the women's prisons in Michigan and that the women fear retaliation if they dare to report or protest against abuse. It is equally clear that the Michigan Department of Corrections has done little to protect the women from retaliation.

Because retaliation has a devastating impact on incarcerated women, their families, and the integrity of a corrections department, if a corrections department official receives credible information that any guard or staff person may have behaved in an abusive manner toward an inmate, it is imperative that the corrections department arrange for a thorough investigation by an independent qualified person, protect the alleged victim and potential witnesses during the course of the investigation, and, if it is determined that abuse has occurred, punish the abusive guard appropriately. If, after a woman reports abuse or after a determination has been made in the investigation, she is issued a disciplinary ticket, the ticket should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that it was issued legitimately and not in retaliation for exercising her rights.

Within the Michigan prison system, no such precautions are taken. When a woman reports being sexually abused by a guard, the report is written up and kept at a duty desk where any officer can read it.37 No attempt is made to protect the identity of the accuser. The only protective measure taken by the Michigan Department of Corrections is to place the accuser in protective custody, even though most women report that this feels punitive because the guards frequently fail to distinguish between women in punitive segregation and women in protective segregation and withhold privileges from any woman in segregation. The investigation of the allegation is conducted by a member of the corrections department and rarely moves beyond deciding that the guard's defense is more credible than the woman's allegations. Although several women report sudden increases in the number of disciplinary tickets issued after filing a complaint against a guard and ask that hearings be held on the tickets, a review of decisions issued by hearing officers in such cases turned up no decision in which the potential for retaliation was addressed by the hearing officer.

Corrections officers in Michigan are given immense discretion in determining how and when to discipline inmates.38 Some guards choose not to issue tickets, preferring instead to resolve any conflicts by talking with the women. Other guards routinely issue tickets for violations of both minor and major prison regulations.39 Guards can force a confrontation that results in a ticket; for example, women report asking permission to go to the toilet, being denied permission, and then being written up for insubordination if they insist that they need to go to the toilet. Women also reported being issued tickets for such infractions as being "out of bounds" for standing slightly off the center of the cafeteria line. It is very difficult to document abuses of power and retaliation. If the guards are intentionally masking their retaliatory behavior, documentation becomes even more difficult. Human Rights Watch is aware of cases in which guards who have been reported for sexually abusing inmates or other forms of abuse have allegedly turned to other guards for help in discrediting and intimidating the women who have made the reports.40 Because guards enjoy immense discretion, it is difficult to demonstrate a causal link between the complaint against one guard and a ticket issued by another guard. Furthermore, the Michigan Department of Corrections routinely upholds tickets, especially when the only evidence is the guard's word against the woman's, creating an unspoken presumption that the women are guilty of the alleged violations.41

The Michigan Department of Corrections has thus created a system ripe for abuse. Our investigation shows that, at a minimum, the Michigan Department of Corrections is indifferent to allowing the appearance of impunity, and may in fact be turning a blind eye to cases of abuse of power and retaliation against women who dare try to protect themselves from sexual abuse by reporting it. As described in the case studies below, in section V, the retaliatory abuses that result range from verbal harassment, intimidation, abusive pat-frisks to sexual assault.

37 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Jane Doe, former corrections officer at Scott Correctional Facility, Ann Arbor, Michigan, March 27, 1998. She requested anonymity based on her allegation that she had been attacked by guards who resented her reporting them to corrections officials for serious violations of departmental regulations. See also Yukins Deposition, June 6, 1995. 38 Ibid. 39 Ibid. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page

This Web page was created using a Trial Version of Transit Central Station 3.0.