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California Women’s Prison Plagued with Sex Abuse Has Closed

The Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California (FCI-Dublin) served as the sole women-only federal prison east of the Rocky Mountains for decades, and its list of former residents includes Heidi Fleiss, Patty Hearst, Squeaky Fromme, and Felicity Huffman.

However, in recent years, FCI-Dublin has been linked to horrific tales of prisoner abuse. Specifically, staff on inmate sexual abuse with the allegations so intense that at one point it was nicknamed the “Rape Club.”

closeup view of a prison wall with barbed wire

In 2021, an Associated Press investigation revealed the accusations of sex abuse and mismanagement went back many years, and the media outlet’s findings led to several prison employees being charged with sex abuse, including the former warden as well as the prison chaplain. 

Despite the legal actions and continuing attempts to reform the prison, problems at FCI-Dublin continued, and on April 15, Colette Peters, the director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced that FCI-Dublin was closing.

Yet, even with the closure, FCI-Dublin has found itself embroiled in controversy.

In the last several weeks, all the residents, more than 600 prisoners, have been removed from the facility. Some qualified for early release, but the majority were transferred to other prisons across the country. 

Although the actions by the BOP concerning the transfers were mostly kept from public view, attorneys representing some of the prisoners expressed concern for the women, especially those with young children, being transferred even further away from their families to prisons outside of California.

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At the same time, there were also allegations of continued mistreatment by staff including guards not allowing women to take bathroom breaks while on the long bus rides to the new sites, and verbal abuse, with some employees telling prisoners they were “snitches,” and that it was their fault they were being moved.

Senators Weigh In on Prison Abuse

The nation’s top lawmakers also expressed concern over prisoner safety and overall well-being in recent weeks during the closure process.

On April 24, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Peters letting her know “concerned stakeholders and advocates have made alarming reports about the ensuing chaos” and stressing that the committee wanted an update that those in custody “are afforded the care, dignity, and respect that they are entitled to.”

Along with the Senate Justice Committee, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has also been monitoring operations at the prison as well as the BOP’s decision to close FCI-Dublin.

In large part because of a federal lawsuit filed in August by eight inmates who allege that the abuse and exploitation continued, even after the firing of the warden, Gonzalez Rogers handed down a decision that a “special master” to oversee the prison should be called in. On April 5, just ten days before the BOP began the closure process, Gonzalez Rogers named Wendy Still, a veteran corrections and probation official, to fill the special master position.

When she made the announcement, Gonzalez Rogers described the prison as ”a dysfunctional mess,”  adding that the BOP has “proceeded sluggishly with intentional disregard of the inmates’ constitutional rights despite being fully apprised of the situation for years.”

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Prison Post-Closure Actions

On May 8, an angry Gonzalez Rogers described the BOP’s actions of quickly closing the prison as a situation that created “serious concern’’ for the women inmates and ordered Peters to closely monitor those who have been relocated. 

“Although it had as much time as needed to prepare, BOP’s operational plan for closure of FCI Dublin was ill-conceived and, like Swiss cheese, full of holes,” she wrote in the order. 

At the same time, Gonzalez Rogers also addressed the Senate Judiciary Committee’s concerns, saying that the BOP did not follow operational issues in moving the inmates.

The BOP is now required to give a weekly status update to Gonzalez Rogers on every prisoner that was transferred. The Agency must also give updates to attorneys for the prisoners and to the special master Gonzalez Rogers appointed last month. 

In addition, the BOP must give a monthly staffing report for each of the prisons the women were transferred to as well as continued reporting on the medical and mental health care the inmates are receiving.

While listing the requirements for the BOP to follow, Gonzalez Rogers also denied a recent motion filed by the Agency questioning the authority of the special master. 

The judge set May 16 as the date for the hearing on that issue.