Michigan Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Lawsuits

For years, juvenile detention centers in Michigan have been accused of failing to protect young inmates from sexual abuse. Recently, a series of investigations and lawsuits have begun to uncover a systemic problem and evidence that juvenile inmates in Michigan were frequently victimized by staff members at various facilities. Victims of sexual abuse at Michigan juvenile detention centers are now coming forward and filing lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).

History of Abuse at Michigan Juvenile Detention Centers

Juvenile detention centers in Michigan have a long and concerning history of physical and sexual abuse. In recent years, the culture of abuse at Michigan juvenile detention centers has recently been spotlighted by

The State of Michigan has allowed a pervasive culture of physical and sexual abuse to exist at its juvenile facilities for decades. State authorities were aware of the endemic conditions connected to abuse in juvenile detention facilities for many years but did nothing. The abuse was often accompanied by force, compulsion, undue influence, duress, coercion, intimidation, and threats of physical harm or retaliation.

Federal Investigation

In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated conditions at juvenile detention facilities in Michigan. The DOJ investigation found that rates of sexual abuse and assault reported by child inmates in Michigan juvenile detention facilities were significantly higher than the national average.

The DOJ investigation found major issues and evidence of abuse at two specific Michigan juvenile detention facilities – the Shawono Center in Grayland (where 24% of inmates reported sexual abuse) and the Maxey Training School in Whitmore Lake (27% reported being the victim of sexual abuse). These were some of the highest sexual abuse rates of any youth detention facility in the nation.

Michigan Juvenile Detention Center Facilities

Below are some of the juvenile detention center facilities in Michigan where sexual abuse was widespread.

Shawono Center – Grayling, MI

The Shawono Center is a juvenile detention facility that can accommodate up to 40 male juveniles between ages 12 and 21. It houses juvenile offenders who have been convicted of felony offenses and offers treatment programs for addiction and sexual offenders. Shawono is one of only two juvenile detention facilities in Michigan that are operated directly by the state government.

Bay Pines Center – Escanaba, MI

Bay Pines is a juvenile detention and treatment center that houses both male and female offenders who are either awaiting adjudication or have been convicted of various criminal offenses. Bay Pines focuses more on short-term “intensive treatment” for juvenile offenders instead of traditional long-term detention. The treatment method at Bay Pines primarily involves group therapy sessions. Inmates are detained in dormitory-style housing.

WJ Maxey Boys Training School

WJ Maxey Boys Training School (“Maxey School”) was a juvenile detention facility in Whitmore Lake, MI. Maxey School could accommodate up to 60 male offenders, making it one of the biggest facilities in the state.

Maxey School developed a reputation for systemic mistreatment and abuse of juvenile inmates. In 2024, the DOJ issued a report finding that the Maxey School was violating the civil rights of inmates. The DOJ found that inmates were frequently subjected to physical and sexual abuse at the Maxey School. In response, the state of Michigan agreed to make specific changes recommended by the DOJ.

The Maxey School was permanently closed in 2015 due to budget cuts.

Wolverine Secure Treatment Center – Buena Vista, MI

The Wolverine Secure Treatment Center (WSTC) was a 100-bed privately operated secure residential treatment facility for males between 12 and 21. When it opened in 1997, WSTC was Michigan’s first privately operated juvenile detention facility. In 2021, WSTC’s license was revoked based on evidence of systemic abuse of juvenile inmates at the facility.

In April 2024, a sex abuse lawsuit was filed in Saginaw County alleging that over a dozen teenagers were sexually abused by staff at the Wolverine Secure Treatment Center in Michigan before it closed in 2021.

The suit accuses the center’s operator, Wolverine Human Services, of gross negligence, detailing abuse incidents involving 13 boys and one girl in their rooms, showers, and other areas.

Settlement Value of Michigan Juvenile Detention Sex Abuse Lawsuits

Many lawsuits in these cases seek $2 million or more in damages due to the profound and lasting impact of the abuse, the egregiousness of the institutions’ failures, and the comprehensive costs associated with the victim’s recovery and ongoing needs.

Calculating settlement amounts in juvenile detention center sex abuse lawsuits in Michigan involves several factors, including the severity of the abuse, the impact on the victim, and the institution’s level of negligence. Key elements considered in these expected per-person settlement payout calculations include:

  • Severity and Duration of Abuse: The nature and extent of the sexual abuse, including its duration and the physical and psychological harm inflicted on the victim, significantly influence the settlement amount.  The elements are important, but they are just one element in calculating detention center sex abuse settlement amounts.  Even one instance of abuse can have a lasting impact on a person and can lead to a significant payout from the defendants (or a jury).
  • Impact on the Victim: This encompasses immediate and long-term effects on the victim’s mental health, daily functioning, and future prospects. Our detention center sex abuse lawyers often work with psychologists and other experts to provide evidence of the victim’s trauma and its lasting impact.
  • Institutional Negligence: The degree of negligence or misconduct by the institution can drive up settlement amounts. The more a jury is likely to be angered by the institution’s failure to prevent abuse, inadequate supervision, and ignored reports of abuse, the higher the settlement is likely to be.  Some of these institutions did not do what they should do; others turned a blind eye, and those should pay more.  Institutions with clear evidence of systemic failure typically face higher settlement amounts.
  • Economic Damages: Although most cases our detention center sex abuse lawyers handle do not include significant economic damages, there are instances where economic losses are claimed. These cover the costs of medical treatment, psychological counseling, and other economic impacts suffered by the victim. There are also sex abuse lawsuits where the victim can make a strong case for past and future economic damages that flow from the emotional injuries.
  • Non-Economic Damages: These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-economic harms. These subjective damages often comprise significant portions of the settlement, as juries deliver compensation awards in this category.
  • Punitive Damages: In cases of gross negligence or intentional misconduct, courts may award punitive damages to punish the institution and deter future misconduct. The risk of punitive damages can drive up settlement amounts in these cases.

There is a history in Michigan of offering fair settlement compensation to in child sex abuse lawsuits in a similar context. In January 2020, the Michigan Department of Corrections agreed to an $80 million settlement to resolve a class action lawsuit filed by former youth inmates. These inmates, who were housed in adult facilities, not detention centers, endured sexual abuse and other harms, including abuse by staff. The lawsuit covered incidents involving 12 youth inmates between October 2010 and February 2020.

How Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Lawsuits Work

Suing only the perpetrators often leads to a dead end, as they usually lack the financial resources to compensate victims adequately. However, the broader issue lies in addressing the institutional, systemic failures that allowed the abuse. Institutional defendants, such as state agencies, are better positioned to provide compensation and implement necessary changes to prevent future abuse. This approach ensures victims are compensated and helps prevent future incidents.

The claims against juvenile detention centers start with the duty of care owed to these children. The state has a legal obligation to safeguard minors, ensuring their basic needs are met and protecting them from sexual assault by other children and the staff responsible for their care. The state breached these duties, leading to widespread physical and sexual abuse within juvenile detention facilities. These children, despite their past issues, are vulnerable and must be protected from physical and psychological harm.

The state clearly failed in this responsibility. Despite prior reports of abuse, the State of Michigan and its employees did not take adequate measures to prevent further harm. This negligence included failing to supervise staff properly, implement sufficient policies, train employees adequately, and ensure effective safety procedures. Additionally, these juvenile detention center lawsuits highlight a systemic issue of inadequate responses to reports of abuse, resulting in continued victimization.

Due to this negligence, these children have suffered significant physical, emotional, and psychological harm, including pain, distress, loss of self-esteem, and other long-term effects of abuse. Michigan detention center sex abuse lawsuits seek compensation for these damages and aim to hold the State of Michigan accountable for its failure to protect vulnerable minors in its juvenile detention facilities.

Contact Our Michigan Juvenile Detention Center Sex Abuse Lawyers

Our Michigan juvenile detention center sex abuse lawyers represent victims in sex abuse lawsuits. Call us at 800-553-8082 or contact us online for a free case evaluation.


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