The Michigan appeals court has decided prisoners have protections under the state's civil rights law.
In a 2-1 decision, the court said civil rights safeguards in the Michigan Constitution trump any exceptions that lawmakers wrote in a 1999 law.
Hundreds of prisoners are suing the state, saying the Corrections Department failed to protect them from abuse by older inmates when they were teens.
Judges Kirsten Frank Kelly and William Murphy said the constitution is clear: No person shall be denied the equal protection of law, including prisoners.
Judge Peter O'Connell disagreed with the decision. He said the civil rights law protects people in a place of public service. O'Connell said lawmakers excluded prisons as providing a public service under the law.
The dispute could end up at the Supreme Court.