Gay and trans prisoners at the G. Robert Cotton correctional facility in Jackson, Mich., have been suffering sexual harassment from guards for years. They complained to administrators who did nothing. The harassment is not only dehumanizing, it creates a hostile environment in which other prisoners and guards are more likely to sexually harass and assault LGBTQ prisoners. Gay prisoners have been knifed in the yard at Cotton by anti-gay prisoners.
Seven prisoners filed grievances under the federal Prisoner Rape Elimination Act, writing 17 pages of testimony about sexual harassment by an officer named Castilla. Retaliation began almost immediately, with three of the prisoners transferred to other units or facilities and at least three facing unwarranted disciplinary actions. The complaint was rejected for “insufficient evidence” and Castilla was returned to his former unit to continue his harassing behavior. One of the lead prisoners, who has been at Cotton for eight-plus years, was transferred the same day the complaint was rejected.
The prisoners knew retaliation was a risk, and decided it was worth it because the harassment is so dehumanizing. The whole grievance process is a mess, with some investigators who are also openly anti-gay. Prisoners aren’t even permitted to be in possession of the PREA handbook — that’s penalized with a 30-day loss of privileges.
The prisoners have asked for our help. Here’s what you can do:
- Spread the word to interested groups and friends.
- Send a letter as soon as possible to the Michigan Department of Corrections and email a copy to Corrections Ombudsman Keith Barber and forward to email@example.com. See sample letter.
- Join a rally at MDOC headquarters in Lansing on Thursday, May 26, 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., 206 E. Michigan Ave.
- Phone zap on May 26: Call MDOC Director Heidi Washington at 517-241-7238. Leave a message asking what she is doing to rectify the situation of the LGBTQ prisoners at Cotton in Jackson who are being retaliated against for a PREA complaint. If you feel comfortable leaving your number, ask for a response to your message.
A Michigan prisoner support activist
Director Heidi Washington
Michigan Department of Corrections
206 E. Michigan Ave.
P.O. Box 30003
Lansing, MI 48909
Cc: Keith Barber, Legislative Corrections Ombudsman
I have learned that gay and trans prisoners at the G. Robert Cotton facility in Jackson filed complaints protesting sexual harassment by a correctional officer named Castilla. Sexual harassment of LGBTQ prisoners is not trivial; it is a violation of the federal Prisoner Rape Elimination Act. The constant, ongoing, inescapable harassment by correctional officer Castilla is not only dehumanizing, it creates a hostile, threatening environment in which LGBTQ prisoners are more prone to be sexually harassed and assaulted — physically and sexually — by other inmates and guards.
Despite testimony from seven witnesses, including one who is heterosexual, the complaint was denied for “insufficient evidence” and Castilla has been returned to the same unit. Now, prisoners are facing retaliation for their brave action of standing up for their humanity and their civil rights. Retaliation for a PREA grievance is also a serious violation of federal law.
Already at least three of the prisoners have faced disciplinary action, including disciplinary action initiated by Castilla himself as well as by correctional officer Morey — all for alleged sexual misconduct. Three of the prisoners have been transferred to other units or facilities. This retaliation serves to intimidate all prisoners and dissuade them from filing sexual harassment complaints, and to further isolate and endanger LGBTQ prisoners.
As a Michigan resident and taxpayer, I demand that you take sexual harassment of LGBTQ prisoners seriously, as it is dehumanizing and brutal, as well as a violation of federal law. You must ensure there is no retaliation against prisoners for filing sexual harassment complaints. Even the appearance of retaliation serves to intimidate other prisoners from filing legitimate complaints.
I urge you to bring in an unbiased external investigator to reinvestigate the complaints against correctional officer Castilla, as well as to investigate the retaliation against LGBTQ prisoners at Cotton correctional facility.
It is your duty to ensure just, humane and unbiased treatment of all Michigan prisoners, including LGBTQ prisoners. LGBTQ prisoners should be provided safe housing units and safe yards where they do not have to fear assault at the hands of anti-gay and anti-trans prisoners and especially correctional officers.
I would appreciate a response letting me know what you are doing to rectify this situation and to protect LGBTQ prisoners’ rights.