Closure of troubled California prison won't happen before each inmate's status is reviewed

FILE - The Federal Correctional Institution stands in Dublin, Calif., Dec. 5, 2022. The federal Bureau of Prisons says it is planning to close a womens 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. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File) (Jeff Chiu, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

LOS ANGELES – The planned closure of a federal women's prison in California notorious for staff-on-inmate sexual abuse won't occur before each inmate’s status has been reviewed, with an eye toward determining who will be transferred elsewhere or released, authorities say.

Following the Bureau of Prison's sudden announcement Monday that FCI Dublin would be shut down, a judge ordered an accounting of the casework for all 605 women held at the main lockup and its adjacent minimum-security camp.

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A special master recently assigned to oversee the troubled prison will review the casework and “ensure inmates are transferred to the correct location,” U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote in her order. “This includes whether an inmate should be released to a BOP facility, home confinement, or halfway house, or granted a compassionate release."

It wasn't clear Tuesday how long the process would take. Another court hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

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. They also worry that some of the safety concerns could persist at other women’s prisons.

“There are survivors of sexual assault that are still at Dublin. And the idea that BOP could just transfer them to some other far-off place without care ... it's just abhorrent to me,” said Susan Beaty, an attorney for inmate whistleblowers who exposed the abuse and corruption.

Beaty said Tuesday that inmates have so far received very little information about their fates. “These are people who are traumatized already, and now they’re being told that they’re moving but they don’t know where or when. They're understandably freaked out,” Beaty said.

A 2021 Associated Press investigation exposed a “rape club” culture at the prison where a pattern of abuse and mismanagement went back years, even decades. The Bureau of Prisons repeatedly promised to improve the culture and environment — but the decision to shutter the facility represented an extraordinary acknowledgment that reform efforts have failed.

“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,” Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters said in a statement to AP. “This decision is being made after ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those unprecedented steps and additional resources.”

Groups representing inmates and prison workers alike said the imminent closure shows that the bureau is more interested in avoiding accountability than stemming the problems.

The April 5 appointment of a special master felt like a turning point, said John Kostelnik, a vice president for the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents guards and other staff at the prison.

“This place was finally on track to being successful again. The special master was supposed to help us do the final mop up of the problems, so we can finally start getting some positive press and move forward," Kostelnik said Tuesday.

He said the bureau's proceedings lacked transparency and called the closure a “slap in the face” to the honest workers who racked up overtime after more than 20 staff members were placed on administrative leave during corruption investigations.

The bureau has vowed that no FCI Dublin employees would lose their jobs. But Kostelnik said union members could be sent to other facilities across the country.

“You have staff members who are very much established in their community, they have family, their kids go to local schools. And you’re potentially uprooting all of that without even a discussion,” he said. “They're devastated.”

Last August, eight FCI Dublin inmates sued the Bureau of Prisons, alleging the agency had failed to root out sexual abuse at the facility about 21 miles (35 kilometers) east of Oakland. It is one of six women-only federal prisons and the only one west of the Rocky Mountains.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said inmates continued to face retaliation for reporting abuse, including being put in solitary confinement and having belongings confiscated. They said the civil litigation will continue.

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.

The AP investigation found a culture of abuse and cover-ups that had persisted for years. 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.


Associated Press writer Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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