View Full Version : Inmates settle 15 yr. suit!

11-28-2003, 08:32 AM
Email this story to a friend | Printable Version
Published November 28, 2003
State, inmates settle $7.5M, 15-year suit
Prison officials approve reforms after mediation

Provisions of pact

Some privileges won by Michigan prison inmates after a long-running lawsuit:

Most prisoners may keep some street clothes, including winter coats and gloves.

Committees will review placement of new prisoners, inmate classification and how long prisoners can remain in isolation.

Prison libraries will include materials regarding divorce, custody and other family law issues. Inmates will be allowed longer phone calls to their attorneys. They also will be allowed reasonable amounts of paperwork and copies of documents needed for court appeals.

Corrections officers will listen more closely to prisoner grievances regarding such concerns as medical care and visitor lists.


By Gary Heinlein
Special to the State Journal

State prison inmates can keep their own winter mittens and buy coats for themselves. They're also promised a clean pair of underpants each day, and two pairs of thermal underwear apiece.

These are among details of a settlement ending a class-action lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections that consumed 15 years and cost taxpayers $7.5 million - one of the nation's longest, costliest prison reform cases.

The lawsuit, launched in 1988 by a handful of inmates, also touched on levels of personal freedom, double-bunking and other aspects of life behind bars. Much was at stake: State corrections officials portrayed it as a battle to keep courts and prisoners from taking control of the prison system.

Lawyers for the prisoners predict the settlement will make things better for their clients in numerous ways. No cost estimates were available, but corrections officials say the impact will be minimal.

"There really are no key changes," Corrections Department attorney Jeff Baumann said. "We've agreed to sit down and discuss some things, such as prisoner classification, to see if we come up with any new ideas."

Classification - a big issue for inmates - is the method corrections officials use to decide how dangerous each prisoner is, where they will be locked up and how much freedom they will have.

Inmates who behave themselves, even murderers, eventually can end up with relatively generous privileges - by prison standards. Prisoners who steal from others, or get in fights, can end up in tightly restricted cell blocks, even if their crimes weren't so serious.

Advocates claim many inmates are kept in high-security prisons long after they've earned the right to freer movement. Sandra Girard, head of the legal team representing prisoners, predicted 2,500 to 3,500 of them will be reclassified to lower security levels as a result of the settlement.

"I think we got a pretty good settlement," she said. "Quite a few things were won for prisoners."

The case at times bordered on the bizarre.

At one point the prisoners were allowed to have a public relations agent who issued news releases explaining their view of developments. That was to counter the spin being applied by representatives of former Gov. John Engler, who branded presiding Ingham County Circuit Judge James Giddings "a lunatic" and sought to have him removed from the case.

Initially, the Corrections Department had to pay the fees of the attorneys suing it, as well as the cost of hauling prisoners to and from court hearings. Those expenses later were shifted to the prisoner benefit fund, a pool of money raised from pop machines and other concessions that otherwise pays for such things as cable TV and books.

Giddings did his own test on a prison-issued coat and gloves by wearing them outside for a couple hours in frigid weather. He pronounced the garb inadequate for Michigan winters and ruled that prisoners could keep their civilian coats or buy new ones until the department comes up with better ones.

The judge held court hearings in a gymnasium when his courtroom proved too small for all of the prisoners wanting to testify.

The lawsuit, filed by inmates wanting to stop guards from seizing their street clothes and typewriters, developed a timeless quality. It swelled like a ball of string, taking in an array of issues central to the lives of 49,000 state inmates.

The Michigan Supreme Court told Giddings to end it by Dec. 1 this year. He appointed a retired judge to act as mediator and bring the two sides together. A settlement was reached earlier this month.

"It didn't have to go on this long," said Girard, head of the legal team representing prisoners. "We offered to negotiate a number of times before the court ordered us to go to mediation."

Contact Gary Heinlein of The Detroit News at 371-3660 or

11-28-2003, 09:28 AM
This article describes what was actually won a lot more than the other article I read... Sounds like it was good for us! Sounds like a victory!


11-28-2003, 09:30 AM
I agree.....and I am damn happy for it too!!


11-28-2003, 09:59 AM
I was happy to read this in this morning's papers. At least now if they have to buy winter coats that will at least keep them warm - they won't be able to reject what they order out of the catalogues...but we'll have to wait and see. I know Brian tried to order a coat out of the catalogue last year and they wouldn't let him have it because the lining of the coat was grey...the lining!!! It was ordered out of one of the approved vendor catalogues and what ticks me off the most about this is why doesn't someone in MDOC go through all the catalogues and cross out what they can't order and it would make things so much easier. It took him 8 months to get his money back from ordering that coat.

11-28-2003, 10:04 AM
OMG 8 months??? What a crock. I know I tlked to Rob last week about his coat and gloves and he said they don't do shit for him.....they just aren't warm enough.


11-28-2003, 10:12 AM
I know what you mean Stacy - Brian isn't a very big guy - and he is smart that he wears layers but still - he has called me up and said that he is freezing most of the time and when those stupid blue pieces of material they call a winter coat get wet - they take forever to dry. I always worry about him getting pneumonia [he's had it once] and I really dread every winter. I keep telling him to put some meat on his bones so he'll stay warm in winter :D. He said the mitts they give them aren't worth a dime either and those are one of the many things that get stolen and if you lose them, it takes them a while to get new ones. I'm glad that judge said what he did about the winter garb. It just really makes me sick that this goes on. The US government is one of the first ones to criticize other countries for violating human rights...I say take a good long look in the mirror buddy.

11-28-2003, 10:16 AM


11-28-2003, 10:21 AM
Stacy we should have our own chat line :D :D

I guess I'm just in a fighting mood today...good thing it is the weekend - I get to sleep in tomorrow - maybe I won't be so grumpy.

11-28-2003, 10:26 AM
LMAO.......I was just thinking the same thing when I saw it was you who responded AGAIN!! I'm in that same mood today!! I feel like there should be MORE to be done and don't know exactly how to go about doing it!! I get frustrated!! Then realize to calm down and figure things out a bit slower....LOL


11-28-2003, 10:28 AM
Everyday i get on and search and search and search for some positive news that will affect our loved ones. And when I don't find what I want to see, changes in laws that will benefit them, I get anxiety. So when I saw this article this morning.....I thought "YES" something positive!!


11-28-2003, 11:21 AM
There are positives every day - some of them are not always in the news though - we often get the positives from our guys inside because sometimes, not always, but sometimes the guards drop info. I guess I just try to see the good in everyone and I have to believe that not all the guards are out to screw our guys [not literally of course :D] and I think that the guards try to give them info when they can. I scan the papers daily and I do searches on everything. I think we all need to do this because some of us have access to local papers that others don't and sometimes there are articles in a local paper that are not picked up by the please everyone check out your local papers and keep an eye open.

missing my son
11-28-2003, 08:32 PM
Great news! How do they go about getting a coat and gloves to them? Sorry if I sound so ignorant, I am a first timer and do not know how to do anything for an inmate. Thanks.

11-28-2003, 11:37 PM
missing my son--They have to have $ in their account and then they can order them from the Penny's catalog in there....