Michigan Department of Corrections Agrees to Stop Identifying Prisoners as Gay

April 08, 2003

At the urging of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Michigan Department of Corrections (MDOC) will no longer identify prisoners as homosexual on prison forms and records.

In a letter dated March 31, 2003 from William S. Overton, Director of MDOC, the Department indicated that an internal investigation had been conducted in response to concerns raised by Jay Kaplan, Staff Attorney for the ACLU Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Project.  Mr. Kaplan’s letter was followed up by a letter from the ACLU Northwest Branch which included a detailed legal analysis.

“While there is a concern and need to identify inmates who are sexual predators, there is no rational for distinguishing homosexual prisoners alone,” said Kaplan.  “Being gay cannot be equated with criminal behavior.”

According the letter from Mr. Overton, the results of the investigation “revealed there is no longer the need to identify prisoners on the basis of sexual orientation.  The Michigan Department of Corrections will soon cease collecting such information and discontinue identifying prisoners as homosexual on forms used by the Department.  The Department will, however, continue to label violent prisoners with some form of “sexual predator” designation when appropriate.”

“This is indeed a significant policy change,” said Steve Morse, President of the ACLU Northwest Branch Board.  “Unfortunately, it may not reach the true underlying problem which affects gay and lesbian inmates.  The abuse that they experience needs to end and we will continue to monitor that.”

Arbitrarily identifying people as gay and communicating this to staff on forms and records could result in placing a prisoner, who is otherwise unlikely to be preyed upon, in danger of violence inspired solely by animus against someone who has been identified as gay.

The ACLU received information that MDOC staff disclosed information contained in the forms about a prisoner’s sexual orientation to other staff members and inmates, resulting in identified inmates being violently attacked and subjected to verbal abuse and threats of violence. 

According to the ACLU, the MDOC policy puts prisoners at greater risk for abuse and violence.  Kaplan’s letter  requested that the MDOC policy be revised, that current forms be changed to remove reference to sexual orientation, and that existing files be revised to remove information pertaining to sexual orientation.

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