By Ian Duncan
The Baltimore City Detention Center had the nation's second-highest rate of sexual contact between jail staff and inmates, according to a U.S. Department of Justice study released less than a month after federal prosecutors accused corrections officers at the jail of sleeping with gang members.
The report, released Thursday, also found higher-than-average rates of inmate abuse at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup. Women in prison are generally subjected to more abuse than men, and nearly 13 percent of inmates at that facility reported being abused either by a fellow inmate or staff member.
The report is based on a survey of more than 92,000 inmates at almost 600 jails and prisons. The department studied not only consensual sex but other types of misconduct and abuse.
Allen Beck, the lead author of the Justice Department study, said inmates were willing participants in about half of cases of sexual misconduct involving staff nationwide. In Maryland, sex between corrections officers and detainees is illegal.
"They've got time on their hands, they're charming, they're using their charm," Beck said, referring to the inmates. He added that normally inmates might not be considered the victim, "but in the legal sense they are."
"Given the power relationships that exist, things that appear as romantic ... perhaps involve some form of coercion."
Almost 7 percent of inmates at the Baltimore detention center reported having had sexual contact with a staff member. The majority of corrections officers are women at the Baltimore detention center, where no female inmates reported sexual contact with staff, Beck said. Nationally, just under 2 percent of jail inmates reported such contact.
The only jail to rank worse than the detention center was the Marion County Jail Intake Facility in Indiana. Almost 8 percent of inmates there reported sexual contact with a staff member.
A federal indictment last month detailed sexual relations among inmates and corrections officers and an extensive smuggling operation at the Baltimore detention center. Tavon White, the alleged jailhouse leader of the Black Guerrilla Family, impregnated four guards, according to prosecutors.
White allegedly used relationships with officers to further the gang's activities as it smuggled contraband including drugs, cigarettes and cellphones into the jail. According to calls intercepted as part of the investigation and summarized in court filings, at least one of the corrections officers enjoyed her relationship with White.
"Me and my sisters we was talking right … so I said you know what makes stay with [you]? SEX!" Jennifer Owens said in a New Year's Day phone call to White, according to the records. "No ones going to give me sex like that."
Lovisa Stannow, executive director of Just Detention International, an organization that campaigns against sexual abuse in detention, said the findings about the Baltimore detention center were "a sign that the jail is facing a major crisis."
"Clearly this is a facility where there has to be a culture shift," she added. "Without the facility leaders taking charge, this kind of abuse will continue."
Federal prosecutors said that the Black Guerrilla Family had significant influence inside the jail and that its leaders had an understanding with some jail staff that they would keep violence under control in exchange for latitude to continue their smuggling operation.
If that's true, Stannow said jail staffers "need to reassert their power."
Overall, Maryland corrections facilities housing men surveyed by the Justice Department had lower rates of sexual victimization — including sex abuse between inmates and between inmates and corrections officers — than the national average.
The Justice Department survey found that sexual abuse of inmates was a widespread problem, particularly at big-city jails, with many reporting similar levels to the Baltimore jail when staff-on-inmate and inmate-on-inmate numbers are combined.
Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, said the agency has put new emphasis on appropriate relationships between inmates and corrections officers in training for employees.
He said the department is also taking steps to meet new nationwide standards aimed at reducing prison rapes. The agency has a senior official whose job is to oversee compliance with the rules.
And on Thursday, the department launched a new hotline for inmates to report sexual abuse at the detention center and the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women.
"We are concerned about all sexual victimization happening within our facilities, and are continually working to lower those rates," he said.
Binetti said that the department investigates all allegations of sexual abuse, and that fewer than 1 percent of inmates made a formal complaint last year.
Justice Department researchers conducted the survey by administering a computerized questionnaire to a random sampling of inmates at jails and prisons around the country. They interviewed 268 inmates at the Baltimore detention center.
The periodic study was required under a 2003 federal law aimed at eliminating rape in prisons and jails. Inmates provide responses confidentially, but Beck said the department works to validate their answers, checking that questions were answered thoroughly, and rejecting survey responses that seem to be fabricated.
Union officials in Maryland said corrections officers get unwanted sexual advances from inmates and that complaints are often ignored.
"I've had cases like that where females have been grabbed, stuff like that and detainees have thrust themselves on them," said Archer Blackwell, a representative of AFSCME Council 67. "Sometimes when they go and write the inmates up, the ticket's almost always dismissed."
Locally run jails in Maryland were also surveyed for the report. They all had lower rates of staff on inmate sexual contact than the state-run Baltimore detention center, but the Allegany County Detention Center and Montgomery County Correction Facility had higher rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, the Justice Department found.
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