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Michigan Jail's Disproportionate Treatment of Women Results in $855,000 Settlement Agreement

A Michigan federal district court has approved a settlement awarding $855,000 in a class action alleging the conditions of confinement for women at the Livingston County Jail were disproportionate to that of men held at the jail. The suit also involved privacy concerns.

The suit was brought initially filed by an individual prisoner but was quickly granted class certification by the district court.

The first claim alleged the jail denied female prisoners equal work release opportunities available to men solely because of their status as women and has granted such privileges to females in an arbitrary and capricious manner. At the same time, similarly-situated male prisoners have been provided work release opportunities." Male prisoners were allowed to sleep in a dormitory area at night without being processed into the jail when returning from work release. The few women in that program were strip-searched and processed into the jail to sleep in prison cells.
The suit further alleged that women trustees were given less favorable laundry work while male trustees were given more favorable jobs in kitchen and clerical positions.

The privacy claim alleged that male guards could view female prisoners' full body while showering. In addition, the top portion of the one-piece suits provided to females most to females must be removed to use the toilet, allowing male guards to view them from the waist up, because of the toilet facility design. The suit also stated that a hostile environment for women exist, citing male guards inducing an intoxicated female prisoner to perform a videotaped striptease." Verbal sexual harassment by male guards was common. Guards also restrained a naked female in a chair. Cross-gender pat and strip searches also occurred regularly.

Finally, the suit alleged the jail provided visitation for male prisoners that is more extensive and available than visitation allowed for female prisoners.

The parties entered 31 hours of mediation that resulted in a settlement agreement. Several areas of equitable relief were reached. The jail agreed to provide females with two-piece uniforms; privacy shower curtains and windows will be installed in the showers; cross-gender body and pat searches are prohibited; hygiene supplies will be provided and time in holding cells limited; trustee job and work release opportunities for women will be expanded; and jail personnel will receive sensitivity training.
Lead plaintiff Theresa Cox will receive $25,000 while class representatives Tamara Patrick and Jane Doe received $15,000. $2,500 will be paid to 33 class members who provided depositions or affidavits, and $500 is payable to the 91 class members that answered questionnaires. Each of the 233 class members will then be eligible to receive up to $1,500 on the basis of a point system assessing their harm.

The attorneys and the ACLU receive $268,727 for attorney fees and $43,818 in costs. On April 1, 2004, the district court approved the settlement agreement. See: Cox v. Homan, U.S.D.C., Eastern District Michigan, Case No. 00-71310.

Additional Source: Detroit News.

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Related legal case

Cox v. Homan