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'There's No Support': Incarcerated Survivors Testify in East Bay Women's Prison Court Hearing

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A federal building is pictured.
On Jan. 5, currently incarcerated women testified in federal court before US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that they have difficulty accessing medical and mental health care and face retaliation if they report staff misconduct. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Survivors of sexual abuse at a federal East Bay women’s prison said inappropriate conduct and retaliation persist, multiple women incarcerated at the facility told a federal judge on Friday.

Federal Correctional Institution Dublin faces 45 civil lawsuits for sexual abuse and retaliation from people currently and formerly incarcerated at the prison. Eight FCI Dublin correctional officers, including the former warden, have been charged already. A federal judge is now considering whether to order changes at FCI Dublin, including requiring an external monitor.

This week, currently incarcerated individuals testified before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers that they have difficulty accessing medical and mental health care and face retaliation if they report staff misconduct.

“There’s no support to be sought out,” said K.D., who is currently incarcerated at the lower-security Dublin camp facility, during a public hearing on Friday.

K.D., whose full name was not used for privacy reasons, described an incident in September when a female guard allegedly “aggressively” patted her down and touched her breasts in a way that made her feel “violated.” K.D. reported the incident to the Department of Justice and then spoke to the psychologist on-site.

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“She told me I could feel safe telling her and that it would not get back to my unit team, and it immediately got back to my unit team,” K.D. said. After the report, K.D. said officers took away her phone, email privileges and visitation rights, as well as access to the commissary.

“I should be able to go tell someone when it makes me feel uncomfortable, and I was extremely punished for this,” said K.D., adding that she didn’t appeal the restrictions out of fear of further retaliation.

The court previously found that multiple women were sent to the isolation unit after reporting sexual violence. Prison officials this week said that the response was intended to protect the women who were put in the segregated unit.

Men in women in business attire stand outside a federal courthouse building and speak into a microphone at a press conference.
Plaintiff attorney Oren Nimni (right), survivor Robin Lucas (second to right), and advocates with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (left) speak in support of women incarcerated at FCI Dublin outside an Oakland federal courthouse on Friday, Jan. 5, 2024. (Sydney Johnson/KQED)

In August 2023, eight survivors of sexual abuse at FCI Dublin, along with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, filed a class-action lawsuit against the Bureau of Prisons, FCI Dublin Officials and individual officers.

The plaintiffs are represented by firms Rights Behind Bars, the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice and Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP.

This week, Judge Gonzalez Rogers heard testimony from FCI Dublin staff and people incarcerated at the facility about whether abusive conditions have continued.

She is now considering whether to order temporary changes at the prison to address unsafe conditions that incarcerated survivors and their advocates said have festered due to a lack of independent oversight. That could include bringing in a third-party monitor, called a special master, to monitor progress at the facility — a first in the U.S. Bureau of Prisons history.

Survivors and advocates are also pushing for better off-site medical care, improved access to legal counsel and release for sexual assault survivors who are still behind bars.

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Other incarcerated individuals at FCI Dublin said correctional officers have strip-searched them after reporting staff misconduct as punishment for coming forward.

“The way things are right now is not good, and somebody has to do something because the people in charge there are not,” said Roberta, who is currently incarcerated at the FCI Dublin prison. Roberta’s last name was not used for privacy reasons. “The repercussions for those of us who are left behind are real. For all that has happened — we are paying for it now.”

Beth Reese, the chief of internal affairs, testified on Thursday that strip searches after visits are a matter of policy. She said her investigators would not entertain cases of officers simply following policy.

Government attorneys originally planned to put four incarcerated people on the stand to defend the conditions at the prison. But only two ended up being transferred to the court on Thursday. One changed her mind, and one testified.

The sole individual who testified in support of the government said she had no complaints about the current conditions at the facility. She participates in programs and classes — and also revived her spiritual practice with the chaplain. She said she received prompt medical care for her high blood pressure and encountered no obstacles calling her lawyer.

She also said other incarcerated individuals tried to intimidate her about testifying for the government, saying her name was on a “snitch list.”

This week, the government also brought forward associate warden Patrick Deveney, who testified that “the institution was in shambles” when he arrived at FCI Dublin 18 months ago. Morale was low, communication was bad, and the culture was among the worst he had seen.

But, he claimed things are turning around. Deveney said that the facility has increased staffing and training. Allegations of sexual misconduct have gone up since Deveney was brought on, which he said is a good thing because more women believe they will be heard.

Most people incarcerated at the facility who testified this week said that’s not their experience.

K.D. said she’s seen at least four instances of sexual abuse by three different officers over the past year at her facility, even though several officials have been convicted and left the prison. But, she said she now fears retaliation and didn’t report the other incidents she witnessed.

“There are too many people scared to speak out. I’ve been in other prisons, and it’s not this way. Staff there covers up for each other and bully us,” K.D. said on Friday in court. “My daughter did not want me to [testify in court]. She thinks I’m risking being away from her for longer to do this. But I think it’s the right thing to do, and women should not have to suffer like this.”

KQED reporter April Dembosky contributed to this story.

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