"We are concerned about all sexual victimization happening within our facilities, and are continually working to lower those rates," he said.

Binetti said that the department investigates all allegations of sexual abuse, and that fewer than 1 percent of inmates made a formal complaint last year.

Justice Department researchers conducted the survey by administering a computerized questionnaire to a random sampling of inmates at jails and prisons around the country. They interviewed 268 inmates at the Baltimore detention center.

The periodic study was required under a 2003 federal law aimed at eliminating rape in prisons and jails. Inmates provide responses confidentially, but Beck said the department works to validate their answers, checking that questions were answered thoroughly, and rejecting survey responses that seem to be fabricated.

Union officials in Maryland said corrections officers get unwanted sexual advances from inmates and that complaints are often ignored.

"I've had cases like that where females have been grabbed, stuff like that and detainees have thrust themselves on them," said Archer Blackwell, a representative of AFSCME Council 67. "Sometimes when they go and write the inmates up, the ticket's almost always dismissed."

Locally run jails in Maryland were also surveyed for the report. They all had lower rates of staff on inmate sexual contact than the state-run Baltimore detention center, but the Allegany County Detention Center and Montgomery County Correction Facility had higher rates of inmate-on-inmate sexual victimization, the Justice Department found.

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The numbers

Jails with the highest rates of sexual contact between inmates and staff:

•Marion County Jail Intake Facility (Ind.) 7.7 percent

•Baltimore City Detention Center (Md.) 6.7 percent

•St. Louis Medium Security Institution (Mo.) 6.3 percent

•Philadelphia City Industrial Correctional Center (Pa.) 6.3 percent

•Santa Clara County Main Jail (Calif.) 6.2 percent

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

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•Santa Clara County Main Jail (Calif.) 6.2 percent

Source: U.S. Department of Justice