Ex-correctional officer charged with sexually abusing 3 inmates in California federal prison cells

File - The Federal Correctional Institution is shown in Dublin, Calif., Dec. 5, 2022. A former correctional officer at a federal womens prison in California where inmates say they were subjected to rampant sexual abuse has been arrested and accused of sexually abusing three inmates in his care. The charges were announced Friday by the Justice Department. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File) (Jeff Chiu, Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – A former correctional officer at a federal women’s prison in California where inmates say they were subjected to rampant sexual abuse has been arrested and accused of abusing three inmates in his care, the Justice Department said Friday.

Darrell Wayne Smith, who worked at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, was arrested on Thursday in Florida on a 12-count indictment. He is accused of sexually abusing the three women in their prison cells and in the prison’s laundry room between 2019 and 2021, prosecutors said.

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Smith is at least the sixth employee at the Dublin prison charged with abusing inmates. An Associated Press investigation last year revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the prison, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Oakland. That reporting led to increased scrutiny from Congress and pledges from the federal Bureau of Prisons that it would fix problems and change the culture at the prison.

The prison’s former warden, Ray Garcia, was convicted in December of molesting inmates and forcing them to pose naked in their cells. He was sentenced to serve six years in prison.

The charges against Smith include sexual abuse of an inmate, abusive sexual contact and aggravated sexual abuse. A lawyer listed for him in court records did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

Since the AP's investigation, the Justice Department has moved more aggressively in recent months to prosecute federal prison employees who are accused of sexually abusing inmates. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco and Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters visited the Dublin prison in March and met with advocates working to improve conditions there.

The Bureau of Prisons also has launched new training for prison wardens and created specialized teams aimed at curtailing sexual abuse at the nation’s federal prisons.

James Theodore Highhouse, a former prison chaplain at Dublin who pleaded guilty to abusing an inmate in his chapel office and lying to authorities, was sentenced in August to seven years in prison. He is appealing the punishment, arguing it exceeded federal guidelines.

Enrique Chavez, a food service foreman, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 20 months in prison. Ross Klinger, a recycling technician, has pleaded guilty but has not been sentenced. John Russell Bellhouse, a prison safety administrator, is scheduled to stand trial later this month.

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