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Updated at 9:35am — MDC Officials Questioned About Jail Rape

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Justice Department panel asks why 'sexual victimization' is so high in Bernalillo County.

Two of the nation's top 10 jails with high rates of sexual victimization of inmates are in New Mexico — the Torrance County Detention Center at No. 1, with 13 percent of inmates reporting some form of abuse, and the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County at No. 3, with 7 percent, or twice the national average, KOB-TV reported.

Torrance County officials went before a U.S. Department of Justice panel in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to answer questions about why it finished on top of a study of some 300 jails nationwide, according to KOB-TV.

And on Wednesday it was the turn of MDC Director Ron Torres and a handful of staff members to tell the panel how inmates are paired together, what happens when an inmate files a sexual victimization claim and what kind of staffing and turnover there is at MDC, Eyewitness News 4 reported.

"If there is a learning opportunity here, we want to take that opportunity and run with it," Torres said. "We try to be very transparent; we've been very accountable to the public, and we'll continue to be. We keep data, we keep statistics and we make sure we are one of the safest jails in the country."

Torrest told the panel that MDC has increased staffing, increased pay and reduced turnover in the past two years, KOB-TV reported.

10:55am 9/25/08 — Torrance County Jail Leads Nation in Prison Rape: Detention center staff to appear at D.C. hearing on why 'sexual victimization' rate is so high.

Torrance County Detention Facility staff are appearing at a hearing at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., next Tuesday to tell a three-person panel why sexual victimization rates at the privately run jail are so high, the Mountain View Telegraph is reporting.

The Torrance County facility, which is run by the Corrections Corporation of America, led all the nation's local jails in sexual victimization , according to a special report released in June by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics.

The report found that the Torrance County lockup had an overall rate of sexual victimization of 13.4 percent, far above the national average of 3.2 percent, the Telegraph reported.

"Sexual victimization," as defined by the study, includes all types of sexual activity behind bars, including inmate-on-inmate rape, abusive sexual contact or unwanted touching, as well as willing and unwilling sexual activity between inmates and staff, according to the Justice Department. 

"Facility management and staff are cooperating fully and will comment (in the) future once the hearing is complete," CCA officials said in a news release.

The panelists, who were appointed by the U.S. Attorney General and the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will ask representatives of the facility some predetermined and some impromptu questions, and the answers will be recorded by a stenographer, Paige Harrison, a statistician with the Justice Department, told the Telegraph.

The panel is collecting evidence on "common characteristics, not only of victims and perpetrators of prison rape, but also of prisons and prison systems with a high incidence of prison rape and those that have been successful in deterring prison rape," a Justice Department Web site said.

"It's really about gathering information," said Harrison, who said the panel already has held three hearings and has scheduled four more.