County misreports data about sexual violence in juvenile jails

Probation Department has opened six investigations into alleged staff misconduct since 2008

By Dave Maass, San Diego City Beat
January 25, 2012

Social scientists and prisoner advocates say that sexual violence in juvenile jails is among the most challenging issues to research. There’s a code of silence among detainees to contend with, as well as a lack of trust between detention officers and their wards. Kids resist reporting abuse for fear of retaliation, stigma or public shame. Documentation is nearly impossible to obtain due to juvenile-privacy laws and public-records exemptions for investigatory files.

Prison rape is even more difficult to quantify when authorities fail to report allegations of sexual abuse accurately, or at all.

San Diego County officials have been misreporting allegations of staff sexual misconduct to the federal government, CityBeat has learned. The San Diego County Probation Department, which manages five facilities for juvenile offenders, has also failed to meet national recommended standards, particularly regarding transparency, despite assurances made to the press in 2010.

In 2003, Congress passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act, which began the process of establishing “zero tolerance” policies for sexual abuse, including assault perpetrated by inmates and staff, in adult and juvenile detention centers. As part of the law, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BOJS) began conducting an annual “Survey of Sexual Violence,” requiring yearly reports of alleged sexual violence from federal and state facilities, as well as from a randomized selection of local facilities.

San Diego County Probation has filed 15 such survey forms for juvenile facilities since 2004 and not one discloses any allegation of sexual misconduct by staff, giving the false impression of a perfect record. Presented with inconsistencies between the surveys and other public records, the Probation Department now admits it does not disclose cases that are investigated by its internal-affairs unit. Since all allegations against staff are investigated by internal affairs, this policy has resulted in the omission of all staff-misconduct cases from the federal surveys.

“Information for the survey was gathered from data entered into the probation case management system, which does not include internal affairs reports due to their sensitive nature,” probation spokesperson Tammy Glenn said in an email to CityBeat. “We do plan to review our department’s process for gathering data to determine if internal affairs reports should be captured for the purposes of the survey in the future.”

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