updated 9/10/2009 12:44:56 PM ET 2009-09-10T16:44:56

Accusations of sexual abuse at the hands of federal prison workers doubled in the past eight years, according to a new government report released Thursday.

Justice Department inspector general Glenn Fine found that claims made against Bureau of Prisons staff members increased dramatically from 2001 to 2008. Claims of sexual misconduct more than doubled, rising 130 percent in the same period.

According to the findings, female prison workers had a disproportionately higher percentage of accusations against them, yet those women who were convicted were less likely to serve time behind bars.

The inspector general is recommending that the bureau update its training and consider alternatives to automatically transferring or isolating prisoners who make such allegations. The report also recommends that the U.S. Marshals Service create new policies for preventing and reporting sexual abuse of prisoners in its custody.

About half of the claims of prison staff sex abuse were made against guards, while nearly 9 percent were made against food service workers in the prisons.

In the 2001 budget year, there were 76 allegations of criminal sex abuse, while in 2008 there were 155. Over that same time period, prison staff increased only 5 percent, and inmate population 27 percent, so the growth of the prison system does not account for the surge of sex allegations.

Bureau of Prisons officials told investigators the increase is due to a greater emphasis on encouraging people to report such abuse.

The Bureau of Prisons holds about 171,000 inmates at 93 different prison sites around the country.

A 2007 government study of all the nation's prisons, including state-run facilities, found that more than 60,000 inmates are sexually abused every year. The study found that 4.5 percent of those surveyed reported being sexually abused in the previous 12 months.

The study also said that more prisoners reported abuse by staff than by other prisoners: 2.9 percent to about 2 percent, respectively.

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