LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Ten female inmates who say male workers raped and sexually abused them in a state prison were awarded $15.5 million Friday in what may be the first of several trials.

The jury's decision was unanimous, and the panel's foreperson took the rare step of apologizing to the women on behalf of Michigan citizens.

Washtenaw Circuit Court Judge Timothy Connors allowed the plaintiffs to speak to the jury.

"I'm heading back to prison today," one of the women said, the Detroit Free Press reported. "I feel strong today because of you. I thank you for believing in us."

The Department of Corrections plans to appeal.

In recent years, male guards have been moved out of female prisons in Michigan as required by an agreement reached with the U.S. Justice Department in 1999, which came after the state was sued based on a federal investigation into sexual abuse complaints.

The case that was decided Friday in Washtenaw County involved a representative sample of the plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuits. LaBelle said there are 490 current or former female inmates, whose cases could be heard 10 at a time.