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Criminal Justice Community Reacts To Survey

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By David Schultz

The congressionally mandated survey of sexual assault in juvenile detention facilities found rates of sexual assault are especially high at 13 facilities across the country, two of which are in Virginia.

Bruce Twyman with the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice says eliminating sexual abuse among juveniles behind bars is nearly impossible.

"Clearly, that type of activity goes on sometimes and we try to do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen," he says. "But, facilities being what they are, sometimes it's difficult to totally eradicate it."

Inmates who say they were abused by a fellow inmate are rare, however. Nearly all say they were abused by staffers at their detention facilities. In the majority of those cases, inmates say the staffers did not threaten them with physical violence, but instead used other forms of coercion. Linda McFarlane, with the prisoner advocacy group Just Detention International, says this isn't surprising.

"Essentially, staff do not need to use force," she says, "because they are already in a position of complete power."

McFarlane says juvenile detention facilities need to provide more training to their staffers and conduct more thorough background checks on the people they hire.

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