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Judge weighs contempt order against FCI Dublin for possible retaliation against inmate

The judge gave the order after learning an inmate at the prison appeared to have been placed in a special housing unit and then transferred to another prison, breaching the judge’s orders

Dublin Federal Correctional Institution

The Dublin Federal Correctional Institution is photographed in Dublin, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)


By Jakob Rodgers
Bay Area News Group

OAKLAND, Calif. — A federal judge is weighing holding the Federal Bureau of Prisons in contempt of court amid allegations that staff at the troubled FCI Dublin women’s prison retaliated against an inmate for testifying about conditions at the scandal-plagued facility.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on Thursday gave the federal prisons bureau until Monday to plead its case after learning that an inmate at the prison appeared to have been placed in a housing unit known to include solitary confinement cells and then transferred to Southern California, all in apparent violation of the judge’s orders.

The order comes as Rogers contemplates the appointment of a special master to oversee changes at the federal prison, which has been rocked by allegations of a reputed “rape club” among guards that targeted inmates for years. The request is part of a sprawling lawsuit filed by advocates of inmates at the prison, accusing managers of ignoring decades of warning signs, retaliating against inmates for speaking out and providing insufficient mental and physical health care.

At least eight staff members at all levels of the prison — from jail guards to the chaplain to the warden — were charged in recent years with sexually assaulting and harassing inmates. Most have either pled guilty or been convicted, including Warden Ray J. Garcia, who was sentenced in early 2023 to nearly six years in prison for sexually assaulting women.

If approved, the appointment of a special master would have little, if any, precedent at a United States federal prison, according to attorneys seeking the arrangement. Several similar lawsuits have been filed, and attorneys in this case are seeking class-action status for the cases.

The latest allegations suggest once again that a special master is needed at FCI Dublin, said Kara Janssen, an attorney for women held at the prison. She pilloried the facility’s staff for the “chilling effect” their alleged actions could have on other women wanting to speak out.

“My big concern is that the message is, ‘Don’t speak up, don’t talk to attorneys, don’t report what’s going on. And if you do, you will face the consequences,’” Janssen said Thursday.

Prison leaders “force our clients to follow their orders, so it’s critical they follow the orders of the court,” Janssen added. “They’re not. And if you can’t trust them to do that, how can you trust them to reform their system?”

The Federal Bureau of Prisons did not immediately respond to a request for comment by this newspaper. The judge’s demands were first reported by KTVU, after the news outlet earlier reported that the inmate had been placed in solitary confinement and then transferred.

The inmate appeared to have been moved after the five-day hearing in early January, during which about a dozen inmates took the stand to describe being bullied, intimidated and retaliated against for reporting mistreatment by staff. Some said they were sexually abused, then left with no easy means to privately report sexual misconduct among the prison’s staff. Trust appeared almost non-existent between inmates and employees of the facility.

“I’m super scared being here because I don’t know what I’m going back to when I get back to my cell today,” one woman testified. The Bay Area News Group is not naming the women, who were referred to only by their first names or initials in court, because they are victims of sexual crimes.

At the end of the hearing, Rogers said that she was “highly doubtful” that a special master for the prison was warranted. She described how the Federal Bureau of Prisons “has come in and cleaned out” leadership at the prison, and voiced skepticism the jailers were currently acting with “deliberate indifference,” despite testimony about retaliation against those who reported staff misconduct.

Rogers’ demands for the federal prisons bureau to explain itself happened a day after the judge made her first personal visit to the facility since the civil lawsuit was filed in August.

The visit — which came with only a few hours’ notice — was “very, very thorough,” said Janssen, who also attended the inspection. Over the course of about nine hours, the judge visited nearly every part of the prison and met with what appeared to be at least 100 inmates — many of them in private, away from the prison’s staff, the attorney said.

“People felt heard, and I think our clients were incredibly grateful to have the chance to speak directly to her,” Janssen said. “I hope, and I think, it was very empowering.”

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