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Sex abuse at Clallam jail high, federal study claims

NEWS UPDATE: Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict said Wednesday he requested an investigation by the FBI into the results of the anonymous survey on inmate-reported sexual abuse released by the Bureau  of Justice Statistics.
"If facts are as alleged I will not tolerate such behavior," he said. "I am confident that this investigation will lead to full exoneration of the professional men and women working in the jail."

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A federal survey of 286 jails ranked Clallam County Corrections Facility third highest in inmate-reported sexual misconduct by corrections staff.


The survey, called the Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates 2008-2009, was conducted through the Bureau of Justice Statistics between October 2008-December 2009 with a sample of 81,566 adult inmates at local jails, state and federal prisons and special correctional facilities. Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 the survey is required.

In Clallam County, 75 out of 132 inmates responded to the anonymous survey, according to the justice bureau. Of 6.1 percent who reported they were sexually victimized by staff, 5.2 percent said they were physically forced, 5 percent said they were pressured and 2 percent said it was without pressure or force. Some respondents reported more than one incident, according to the report.

Under state law, sexual relationships between jail staff and inmates are prohibited.

Clallam County Correctional Facility Superintendent Ron Sukert said the inmate reports were not verified by the bureau and he knows of only one allegation of staff sexual misconduct in 15 years.

The last incident was investigated by the Clallam County Sheriff's Office and found to be unsubstantiated, he said.

Sukert said inmates could have seen the survey as an opportunity to cause trouble for the jail without being confronted.

"The facts that we're able to put together don't support the claims of that study," he said.

Inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization was reported at 4.4 percent at the Clallam County jail, higher than the jails in King, Pierce and Spokane counties. The reported staff sexual misconduct was higher in Clallam County as well.

Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, said when considering the results it is important to note some jails and prisons had high rates of reported sexual victimization and some had low rates.

The study estimates that 88,500 inmates are abused annually either by fellow inmates or staff.


A 'nationwide crisis'

"I think the results show very clearly that sexual abuse in detention remains a nationwide human rights crisis," Stannow said.

"It also shows very clearly the fact that this type of abuse is preventable, because some prisons and jails have inmates report none or a lot."

Stannow said the prisons and jails that show high rates of sexual victimization should deal with the problem urgently instead of poking holes in the data.

"If you're really, truly committed to ending sexual abuse as a corrections leader, you have to take these results seriously," she said.

Sukert said corrections officials realize it is a serious issue and handle reports of any crimes committed inside the jail by reporting them to PenCom and assigning them to a sheriff's deputy.

"Every crime (the deputy) can substantiate is investigated by the sheriff's department," he said.

Corrections officers complete rigorous training to ensure they have the makings of a good officer, he said.

Officers go through a civil service testing process, psychological testing, a polygraph test, extensive background check and a corrections officer academy, he said. After that they are trained in local policies and procedures, he said.

Inmates also are expected to know the policies of the jail, through reading a booklet given after they are booked, he said. The booklet is available in English and Spanish and outlines expectations, rules and programs available.

Stannow said Just Detention International worked to write the report and is involved in developing policies to prevent abuse in correctional facilities across the country.

In regard to the Clallam County data, Stannow said a facility with that level of staff misconduct has a major problem, including an urgent need to train staff in understanding professional boundaries.

Staff never can claim they were manipulated into having sex with an inmate or that it was consensual when they literally hold the key to the inmate's freedom, she said.

"Rape is not part of the penalty," she said.

See the full Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

Reach Amanda Winters at awinters@sequimgazette.com.

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