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U.S. Department of Justice Bargains Away Rights of Women Prisoners

Settlement Agreement Lacks Adequate Protections for Female Inmates Sexually Abused by Prison Staff

In a letter to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, Human Rights Watch condemned "as grossly inadequate" the settlement agreement reached between the Department of Justice and the Michigan Department of Corrections in The United States of America v. Michigan.

This settlement leaves the women vulnerable to sexual harassment and abuse by corrections staff," said Regan Ralph, executive director of the Women's Rights division of Human Rights Watch. The organization has repeatedly called on the U.S. Department of Justice to take the measures necessary to promote and protect the human rights of women incarcerated in the United States in keeping with domestic and international standards.

Hopes for change were high when thirty-one women filed a class action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections, a case later jointly prosecuted with the U.S. Department of Justice. Both actions sought better protections for incarcerated women as a means of preventing sexual abuse and retaliation against women who report it. The settlement between the Department of Justice and the State of Michigan has dashed those hopes.

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