- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Inmate reports of sexual assault have increased in West Virginia’s jails and prisons but the percentage of allegations found to be substantiated has declined, state data show.

Data released by the Division of Corrections show allegations of sexual assaults in prisons increased from 25 in 2008 to 229 in 2013. Substantiated allegations fell from 80 percent to 17 percent during the same period, The Charleston Gazette (http://bit.ly/1tW5VI8) reported.

Allegations of sexual assaults increased in regional jails from 90 in 2013 to 139 in 2014. Substantiated allegations declined from 41 percent to 23 percent during the period. The jail totals include inmate-on-inmate sexual acts and staff sexual misconduct, data released by the Regional Jail and Correctional Facility Authority show.

Division of Corrections investigators generally follow the same process as law enforcement when responding to an allegation, said Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.

“They face the same challenges in establishing the veracity of an allegation and building a case as law enforcement generally,” Messina told the newspaper in an email. “It is important to note that inmates can still receive services and be relocated, even if the allegations they file are not substantiated.”

Attorney Mike Woelfel has represented dozens of inmates in sexual-assault lawsuits against the state. He said he has been receiving fewer requests for his services.

“The Regional Jail Authority has taken, I think, some pretty distinct positive measures in the last six to 12 months,” Woelfel told the newspaper. “I applaud that. We’ve seen more installation of cameras. We’ve had staff prosecuted. We’ve had staff resigning. I think there’s a much better system in place with the Regional Jail Authority and in terms of investigating complaints of sexual exploitation of women in the state.”

Prison and jail officials have been working to implement new federal standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

The Division of Corrections is updating staff training and PREA compliance managers from each facility meet once per month. The West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services is helping develop training for victim advocates at the rape crisis centers to field requests for services from inmates, Messina said.

The Regional Jail Authority reached out to Just Detention International, for help implementing the changes. The health and human rights organization works to end sexual abuse in all forms of detention.

“From what we’ve seen, their attitude is exactly the right one to have, and there’s a very good possibility they’re going to be a big PREA success story,” Chris Daley, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, told the newspaper.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, http://www.wvgazette.com

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