Senators demand accounting of rapid closure plan for California prison where women were abused

LOS ANGELES — Nearly all the inmates have been transferred from a troubled women’s prison in California that will soon be closed, and U.S. senators on Wednesday demanded a report on the rapid closure plan for the facility where sex abuse by guards is rampant.

As of Tuesday, only “a small group” of women were still being held at FCI Dublin, while the majority of the 605 inmates were sent to other federal facilities this week, said Donald Murphy, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP. . The unspecified number staying at the minimum-security prison near Oakland were awaiting release or transfer to halfway houses, he said.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the BOP expressing concern over claims of a chaotic transfer process, in which detainees on buses and planes were denied proper medical care and allegedly subjected to “abuse, intimidation, neglect and abuse while on the road.”

Susan Beaty, a lawyer for prisoners who blew the whistle on prison conditions, said there were reports that guards made insulting comments to the women during transport, “branding them as traitors, referring to the closure of Dublin.” In addition, the prisoners were shackled at the wrists and ankles throughout their long journey, despite their minimum security classification, and in some cases were denied water and trips to the bathroom, Beaty said.

The BOP did not immediately respond to the senators’ letter, but Murphy said the agency addressed all of the inmates’ needs with “compassion and respect” during the transfer process.

“The process involved careful planning and coordination to ensure the safe transfer of women to other facilities, with special attention paid to their unique programming, medical and mental health requirements,” he wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “We remain committed to helping each individual adapt to their new environment, with the necessary care and support.”

A 2021 Associated Press investigation exposed a “rape club” culture at the prison, where a pattern of abuse and mismanagement stretched back decades. The Bureau of Prisons repeatedly promised to improve the culture and environment – ​​but the decision to close the prison represented an extraordinary admission that reform efforts had failed.

Following the sudden announcement on April 15 that FCI Dublin would be closed, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered a case-by-case review of each inmate’s specific needs before the transfers began.

In response, the agency filed court papers questioning the authority of the special master appointed by the judge on April 5 to oversee the prison and whose job it was to assess the status of each woman. Advocates for the inmates hoped the judge’s decision would delay the closure. But the agency went ahead with the process anyway, saying in a court filing that “significant resources and labor hours have already been invested in the move.”

Five members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday asked Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters to provide information on preparations to close the facility and the guidance given “for the safe and humane release from custody or transfer of individuals to other BOP facilities.”

“Individuals in custody at FCI Dublin have long suffered a toxic carceral culture characterized by sexual assault, harassment and medical neglect by BOP staff. And now, while subjected to the hardships and indignities of a flawed and hasty closure and transfer protocol, women in custody are reporting hostility and retaliation from BOP officials who blame them for the facility’s closure. This is unacceptable,” said the letter signed by Democratic Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey; Richard Durbin of Illinois; Jon Osoff of Georgia; and Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler from California.

Beaty said some of her clients have been sent to facilities in Texas, Florida, Minnesota and West Virginia.

“These are women who have been able to see their children, their parents and loved ones with some regularity. Now they are distraught because they have been torn apart,” Beaty said.

Advocates had called for most of the prisoners to be freed – not transferred – from FCI Dublin, which they said was not only plagued by sexual abuse but also suffered from dangerous mold, asbestos and inadequate health care. They also worry that some of the security problems at other women’s prisons could persist.

Last August, eight FCI inmates from Dublin sued the Bureau of Prisons, claiming the agency had failed to eradicate sex abuse in prison. Their lawyers have said the civil suit will continue.