Feds: Punish Mich. Dept. of Corrections for destroying women's prison records

LANSING - The U.S. Justice Department wants a judge to impose sanctions on the Michigan Department of Corrections for destroying records relevant to the federal law enforcement’s lawsuit against the department.

In a court filing this week, Justice Department officials accused state prison officials of "at a minimum, negligence," for destroying job duty records that are important to their 2016 lawsuit alleging the department has discriminated against female corrections officers at the state's only women's prison, Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility.

The destruction of records happened after the department was put on notice that the records should be preserved, and "severely prejudices" the department's ability to prove its case, Justice Department attorneys said in a Wednesday court filing.

As a result, the court should draw certain inferences about the allegations in the lawsuit and bar the department from using certain defenses, the attorneys said.

Chris Gautz, a department spokesman, said the agency "strongly disagrees with the assertions" made in the court filing.

"The department has retained and produced all post orders since the lawsuit was filed in 2016," he said. "The Attorney General’s Office, which represents the department, will be filing its full response with the court."

The suit, filed under the Civil Rights Act in U.S. District Court in Detroit, alleges the department's policy of allowing only female corrections officers in certain jobs at the prison near Ypsilanti has been overly broad since 2009 and the department's denial of transfers to other prisons for female corrections officers has been unlawful and discriminatory.

Combined, the policies "required female employees at Huron Valley to work excessive overtime hours at a cost to their health," the Justice Department alleges.

The department, which made many jobs at Women's Huron Valley female-only following a sexual abuse scandal involving male corrections officers, denies the allegations.

The Justice Department doesn't object to certain corrections officer  jobs in the prison housing units being designated as female-only, but it alleges the department has applied such restrictions too broadly in other areas, such as the gym, the chow hall, and the library.

The Free Press had reported extensively on the forced overtime issue in advance of the suit, including stories about former corrections officers who said they had to quit because the hours were ruining their personal lives and their health.

The new court filing says the department was on notice since 2010 that it should have kept "post orders" that detail duties and responsibilities of certain positions, the number of officers assigned to each position on the various shifts, the number of those positions designated as female-only, and the required tasks for each assignment.

But the department has acknowledged that "post orders from 2009 through 2014 have been destroyed."

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© 2017, Detroit Free Press


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