Sheriff disputes Clallam jail rape allegations

While Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict vehemently denies allegations from a Bureau of Justice Statistics report that inmates are sexually victimized in the Clallam County jail, the report's author stands by his results.

The study, "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates," ranks Clallam County third out of 286 jails for inmate-reported staff sexual misconduct.

The study examined anonymous surveys taken by 75 inmates over a period of four days in March 2009. The survey was developed by RTI International, a private research corporation, jail and prison administrators and the BJS.

The survey is required yearly as part of the Prison Rape Elimination Act and the three highest-ranked facilities will be asked to appear before the prison rape review panel in Washington, D.C.

Bad data?

Benedict said he was briefed on the study in August and thought it was flawed. After an article on the study ran in the Sequim Gazette on Sept. 8, Benedict asked the FBI to investigate the claims.

Benedict takes issue with the anonymity guaranteed to survey-takers and said just a handful of inmates wanting to cause trouble could have skewed the data.

Benedict said he received an e-mail from a woman claiming inmates conspired to give bad data.

In the e-mail Elizabeth Stallings, who was in jail at the time on possession of methamphetamine and theft charges, said some of the women inmates were laughing about giving the "worst possible untruthful answers."

Benedict said Stallings identified three women who allegedly gave false reports.

He does not plan on interviewing the women because he knows such false reports would be consistent with their reputations, he said.

But BJS statistician Allen Beck said while it is possible some of the allegations were untrue, conspiring to give bad data to skew the results would have been very difficult to do.

Survey methods

Beck said to ensure both jail and survey staff didn't know which inmates reported sexual abuse, two different surveys were administered. One was on sexual abuse within the jail and the second, which was administered to 5 percent of the responding inmates, was on substance abuse and treatment, he said.

The surveys, which were timed for 30 minutes, were conducted on touch-screen computers with audio prompts for inmates with low literacy, he said. Not only were the surveys randomized but also the questions, so inmates didn't know what would be asked next, he said.

Beck's team looked for inconsistencies such as extreme responses, surveys that were completed too quickly or surveys that weren't completed at all, he said. Inconsistent surveys were thrown out, but they found the surveys to be very consistent overall, he said.

"That's an indication that these interviews have at least some internal validity," he said. "It's very difficult to make up these surveys wholesale in 30 minutes not knowing what questions are coming forward.

Beck said if inmates were conspiring to give false reports, he would expect to see an increase in reports of abuse as the days went on and word got out about what was contained in the survey.

"There was not (an increase as time went on)," he said. "You'd think they would need to take some time to construct such a conspiracy."

Anonymity in the survey is necessary so inmates don't fear they will be labeled a snitch or face retaliation by their abuser, he said.

"You don't have to argue that all these allegations are true for these results to be credible," he said in response to Benedict. "I encourage jail administrators to be reflective and take that into account."

'It doesn't happen here'

Benedict said the jail is not turning a blind eye to the issue of sexual victimization, but the claims of the study simply are not true.

"It may happen somewhere else but it doesn't happen here," he said.

Benedict said every inmate complaint is taken seriously and investigated.

He recalled three complaints in the past 15 years. One led to the 1997 conviction of a jail guard for exchanging drugs for sex, the second led to the firing of a noncommissioned staff member and the third was unsubstantiated, he said.

Benedict said he would like the FBI to investigate but since no victims have come forward there isn't much they can do. He asked that anyone who was ever an inmate and feels he or she was sexually assaulted in the jail call the FBI at 360-394-8188.

"We're going to get to the bottom of it and demand they remove Clallam County from it (the study) because those are bogus claims," he said.

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