Jails in downtown Los Angeles are among the worst in the nation when it comes to inmates alleging sexual abuse by fellow convicts or even the deputies guarding them, according to a new survey from the U.S. Justice Department.
The survey found that 8 percent of respondents at the downtown Twin Towers Corrections Facility complained of "sexual victimization" - compared to a national average of 3.2 percent. At Men's Central Jail next door, the rate was 6.9 percent.
The "Sexual Victimization in Prisons and Jails Reported by Inmates" survey was mandated by the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003.
Sheriff Lee Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the department was taking the survey seriously.
"We're going to analyze this and take appropriate action," he said. "If anything needs to be done, we're certainly going to do it."
He seemed skeptical about the findings, however, pointing out that about half of the Twin Towers' 3,300 inmates are mentally ill.
"With Twin Towers, especially, there's a large population of those people with mental challenges," Whitmore said. "Sometimes, they will say things that are just not true in reality."
"But we investigate all sexual assault claims regardless of who makes them," he added.
Only five other jails across the country reported higher than 8 percent of sexual assault allegations. The highest was Philadelphia City Industrial Correctional Center, at 9.5 percent.
Almost three dozen other jails in the survey had zero incidences.
The report cautioned against trying to rank the jails exactly in order because of the study's margin of error.
DOJ's Bureau of Justice Statistics senior statistical adviser Allen Beck, who conducted the survey, urged the Sheriff's Department not to dismiss its findings.
"You should take these numbers seriously," Beck said over the phone from Washington D.C., adding the survey used techniques to try to weed out false responses and ensure reliable results.
"Obviously, not all inmates necessarily tell the truth but I think you have to be very careful when you discount allegations simply on that basis," Beck said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California legal director Peter Eliasberg noted the same survey was conducted in 225 prisons and 358 jails.
"It's troubling that when the same methodology was applied in different places, Twin Towers came out as one of the worst 20 in the country (specifically in inmate-on-inmate incidents)," he said.
"I don't think any responsible person will say that L.A. inmates lie more than New York inmates," Eliasberg said. "Even if the actual number is not perfectly accurate, I don't see any reason why the comparison would not be a valid one."
The survey took a sample of 200 inmates at the Twin Towers in 2011 and 2012, and found 8 percent of them reported some form of sexual victimization, defined as a wide range of activity from improper touching to penetration to willing or unwilling sexual activity with staff.
Of the alleged incidents of sexual victimization at Twin Towers, 4.9 percent fell into "inmate-on-inmate" category while jail staff allegedly perpetrated 4.4 percent.
The numbers are double or triple the national averages, which 1.6 percent for "inmate-on-inmate" abuse and 1.8 for staff sexual misconduct.
Beck said the most vulnerable inmates were the mentally ill, and those who were gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.
He acknowledged the data has shortcomings.
"The (survey) collected only allegations of sexual victimization," Beck wrote in the report. "Since participation in the survey is anonymous and reports are confidential, the survey does not permit any follow-up investigation or substantiation of reported incidents through review."
"Some allegations in the (survey) may be untrue," he conceded.
Beck added, however, that the number of false responses might be offset, to some degree, by the number of inmates who keep quiet about actual abuse because of shame, fear of retaliation, and other reasons.
The survey comes about six months after the blue-ribbon Commission on Jail Violence criticized Baca and the department for rampant excessive force at the jails.
Jesse Lerner-Kinglake, spokesman for the Just Detention International, criticized Baca for what he considered leadership failures.
"There are facilities in this survey that have virtually eradicated sexual abuse, which is proof that this can be done," he said. "This does not have to be an inevitable consequence of incarceration."
"Sexual abuse can be stopped and it all boils down to leadership and staff," he added.
Original post: http://www.dailynews.com/ci_23271027/inmates-report-sexual-abuse-at-l-county-jails