WASHINGTON – Sexual assaults and other illicit incidents of sexual contact are reported at juvenile prisons at 10 times the rate than at adult lockups, a government study finds.
The research found 10 reported incidents for every 2,000 youths at state-run juvenile facilities. At state-run adult prisons, it was one reported incident for every 2,000 inmates, according to the study by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (search) released Sunday.
The numbers are based on substantiated reports to corrections officials in 2004.
Better reporting is one factor contributing to the higher rate at the juvenile corrections centers, said study co-author Allen J. Beck (search). State laws require staff to report sex allegations involving minors, he said.
Beck, the bureau's chief of corrections statistics, said the study did not make a distinction between consensual and nonconsensual sexual contact. For people under age 18, any sexual contact is considered illegal, he said.
The study defined sexual contact between corrections officials and inmates at adult facilities, including consensual but illegal acts, as "sexual violence." By that standard, the study found that most of the reports of sexual violence in adult facilities involved guards and other corrections officials having sexual contact with inmates.
Beck said it is not clear how much unwanted sexual contact takes place between prisoners because victims may fear retaliation if they go to authorities.
For 2004, more than 8,200 allegations of sex violence were reported to corrections officials, the report said. About one-third of the complaints were substantiated by officials, and 15 percent were still being investigated.
Most of the allegations — about 55 percent — were either false or there was not enough evidence to support or reject them, Beck said.
The bureau looked at more than 2,700 correctional facilities holding some 1.7 million inmates — 80 percent of the prison population.
"It is a first step not only to find out how extensive the problem of sexual violence is, but it is also an important first step in looking at broader issues of safety, abuse and violence in our jails and prisons," said Alexander Busansky, executive director of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons (search), a privately funded nonpartisan group.