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Ex-Warden of Dublin Prison Convicted of Sexually Abusing Incarcerated Women

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The outside of a prison.
The Federal Correctional Institution in the East Bay suburb of Dublin. The low-security women's prison became known as the 'rape club' amid multiple allegations of sexual assault of women incarcerated there by prison staff. (Anda Chu/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images)

The former warden of a federal prison in California was convicted on Thursday of molesting incarcerated women there and forcing them to pose naked in their cells.

Ray Garcia was found guilty of eight charges and faces up to 15 years in prison. He is the first to go to trial among five workers charged with abusing incarcerated women at the Federal Correctional Institution, a low-security prison in the East Bay suburb of Dublin, dubbed the “rape club.”

Garcia, 55, retired from his post last year after the FBI found nude photos of incarcerated women on his government-issued phone. Garcia was charged with abusing three women between December 2019 and July 2021.

Jurors deliberated over parts of three days following a week of testimony, including from several of Garcia's accusers and the former warden himself.

“Instead of ensuring the proper functioning of FCI Dublin, he used his authority to sexually prey upon multiple female inmates under his control,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds said, calling Garcia's crimes a betrayal of the public trust and his obligations as a warden.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Garcia’s abusive conduct followed a pattern that started with compliments, flattery and promises of transfers to lower-security prisons, and escalated to sexual assault.

Testifying on his own behalf, Garcia conceded that he had made mistakes but claimed that some of his alleged wrongdoing — like taking pictures of naked inmates — was done as part of his official duties to document violations of prison policy. Prosecutors countered by calling a prison lieutenant who said he's never seen a case where it was appropriate for an employee to take photos of a nude inmate.

An Associated Press investigation in February revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the prison. 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.

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The trial has called into question the Bureau of Prisons’ handling of sexual abuse complaints from incarcerated women against staff and the vetting process for the people it chooses to run its prisons.

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an incarcerated person is illegal. Correctional employees enjoy substantial power over incarcerated people, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an incarcerated person can give consent.

Garcia was in charge of training staff and incarcerated women on reporting abuse and complying with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act while at the same time committing abuse, prosecutors argued, noting that some women said they were sent to solitary confinement or other prisons for accusing employees of abuse.

Prosecutors said Garcia tried to keep his victims quiet with promises that he’d help them get early release. He allegedly told one victim he was “close friends” with the prison official responsible for investigating staff misconduct and couldn’t be fired. According to an indictment, he said he liked to cavort with incarcerated women because, given their lack of power, they couldn’t “ruin him.”

Garcia is also accused of ordering incarcerated women to strip naked for him as he made his rounds and of lying to federal agents who asked him whether he had ever asked the women to undress for him or had inappropriately touched any of them.

“We see inmates dressing and stuff ... and if they’re undressing, I’ve already looked,” Garcia told the FBI in July 2021, according to court records. “I don’t, like, schedule a time like, ‘You be undressed, and I’ll be there.’”

Garcia was placed on administrative leave before retiring. He was arrested in September 2021.

Last month, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco directed federal prosecutors across the U.S. to “consider the full array of statutes,” including the federal Violence Against Women Act in cases involving Bureau of Prisons employees who are accused of sexual misconduct.

In those cases, Monaco said prosecutors should consider asking judges for sentences that go beyond the federal guidelines if the sentence recommended in the guidelines isn’t “fair and proportional to the seriousness of the offenses.”

Of the four other Dublin prison workers charged with abusing incarcerated women, three have pleaded guilty and one is scheduled to stand trial next year. James Theodore Highhouse, the prison’s chaplain, is appealing his seven-year prison sentence, arguing that it was excessive because it was more than double the recommended punishment in federal sentencing guidelines.

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