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Feds to close California women's prison plagued by sex abuse

An AP investigation in 2021 found a culture of abuse and cover-ups that had persisted for years at the prison.
Feds to close California women's prison plagued by sex abuse
Posted at 6:19 PM, Apr 15, 2024

The beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons said Monday it will close a women's prison in California known as the “rape club” despite attempts to reform the troubled facility after an Associated Press investigation exposed rampant staff-on-inmate sexual abuse.

Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters said in a statement to the AP that the agency had “taken unprecedented steps and provided a tremendous amount of resources to address culture, recruitment and retention, aging infrastructure — and most critical — employee misconduct.”

“Despite these steps and resources, we have determined that FCI Dublin is not meeting expected standards and that the best course of action is to close the facility,” Peters said. “This decision is being made after ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those unprecedented steps and additional resources.”

The announcement of Dublin's closure represents an extraordinary acknowledgment by the Bureau of Prisons that its much-promised efforts to improve the culture and environment there have not worked. Many attempts to stem the problems at Dublin have come after the AP investigation revealed a pattern of abuse and mismanagement that crossed years, even decades.

Just 10 days before the closure announcement, a federal judge took the unprecedented step of appointing a special master to oversee the prison.

Avocates want prisoners freed

FCI Dublin, about 21 miles east of Oakland, is one of six women-only federal prisons and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains. It currently houses 605 inmates — 504 inmates in its main prison and another 101 at an adjacent minimum-security camp. That figure is down from a total of 760 prisoners in February 2022.

The women currently housed at the prison will be transferred to other facilities, Peters said, and no employees will lose their jobs.

Advocates have called for inmates to be freed from FCI Dublin, which they say is not only plagued by sexual abuse but also has hazardous mold, asbestos and inadequate health care.

Last August, eight FCI Dublin inmates sued the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, alleging the agency had failed to root out sexual abuse. Amaris Montes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, had said inmates continued to face retaliation for reporting abuse, including being put in solitary confinement and having belongings confiscated.

Montes said she and her clients had suspected closure might be a possibility, but the suddenness of the decision so quickly after the special master appointment came as a shock. 

“It's a signal that the prison knows that they are not meeting constitutional standards to keep people safe from sexual assault and sexual harassment,” Montes said Monday.

Montes said timing on the closure and transfer of inmates was still being worked out, but she hoped it would be done in a measured way.

“I think that the BOP is quick to try to transfer accountability and move accountability elsewhere as the way to remedy the issue. And that would mean, you know, moving people quickly without addressing people’s needs right now.” 

Many of the incarcerated women have physical and mental health issues that need to be dealt with, she said, while other inmates might be considered for release.

On Monday, two buses moved around the parking lot of FCI Dublin. Prison staff moved baggage and carts of supplies between the buildings and buses. An AP reporter did not see any inmates leaving the facility.

A history of abuse allegations — and convictions

Last month, the FBI again searched the prison and the Bureau of Prisons again shook up its leadership after a warden sent to help rehabilitate the facility was accused of retaliating against a whistleblower inmate. Days later, a federal judge overseeing lawsuits against the prison said she would appoint a special master to oversee the facility’s operations.

An AP investigation in 2021 found a culture of abuse and cover-ups that had persisted for years at the prison. That reporting led to increased scrutiny from Congress and pledges from the Bureau of Prisons that it would fix problems and change the culture at the prison.

Since 2021, at least eight FCI Dublin employees have been charged with sexually abusing inmates. Five have pleaded guilty. Two were convicted at trial, including the former warden, Ray Garcia. Another case is pending.

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal. Correctional employees have substantial power over inmates, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an inmate can give consent.

Inmate advocates worry that some of the safety concerns at FCI Dublin could persist at the other women's prisons. Montes said the civil litigation will continue despite the imminent closure.

“The BOP is the defendant in the case. It's not FCI Dublin," she said. “And so we are in the mindset that this did not end our case — that they still have a responsibility to our clients to keep them safe.”

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