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'A Dysfunctional Mess': Judge Orders Third-Party Oversight for East Bay Women's Prison Plagued by Sexual Abuse

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FCI Dublin Women's Prison in Dublin on Aug. 16, 2023. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Updated 4 p.m. Friday

A federal women’s prison in the East Bay embroiled in a sexual misconduct scandal will have to appoint a third-party to oversee mandatory changes at the facility following reports of retaliation and ongoing abuse.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered the changes at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, which is currently facing 63 individual lawsuits as well as a class action lawsuit against ongoing abuse and retaliation at the prison. It is the first time that a so-called “special master” has been ordered for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“The Federal Correctional Institute (“FCI”) Dublin is a dysfunctional mess. The situation can no longer be tolerated. The facility is in dire need of immediate change,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote in her ruling. “The repeated installation of BOP leadership who fail to grasp and address the situation strains credulity. The Court is compelled to intercede.”

The court-appointed overseer will monitor whether the prison is addressing patterns of abuse and retaliation, “which has resulted from the convictions and sentencings of five prison officials, including the previous warden, for criminal abuse and sexual contact,” the order reads.

Advocates for plaintiffs celebrated the ruling outside the federal courthouse in Oakland on Friday.

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“I am so beyond pleased that our clients will hopefully begin to get some relief and that those conditions will begin to improve,” said Kara Janssen, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “People have been living in this place for years under an administration that has been terrorizing them. There has been rampart sexual abuse, rampant retaliation.”

Eight correctional officers have been charged for sex crimes at FCI Dublin since 2022, and seven of them have been convicted or pleaded guilty, including the former warden and chaplain at the prison.

Since then, new officials have come in promising to turn around the scandal-ridden prison. During the hearings, several FCI Dublin officers and government officials testified that conditions had improved and that reports of abuse are taken seriously.

But during five days of evidentiary hearings in January, 14 women incarcerated at FCI Dublin testified that they have seen abuses take place and some said they have been retaliated against for reporting it.

On Feb. 14, Judge Gonzalez Rogers made an unannounced visit to Dublin to observe the conditions firsthand.

In the meantime, turnover among leadership has also been rampant. Warden Art Dulgov was the latest and third warden to replace Warden Ray Garcia, who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple women while in his role. This week, Dulgov was removed from his position after only months on the job, following an FBI raid at the prison where officers took computers and documents.

During a court hearing on Friday, the Bureau of Prisons announced Nancy McKinney will be the newest interim warden.

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Despite shifts in leadership and nearly half a dozen convictions, prison officials have failed to protect people under their custody and retaliated against those who reported instances of abuse, attorneys for the plaintiffs argued.

They said many were threatened and targeted due to their immigration status and could face deportation, potentially separating them from families and children.

Gonzalez Rodgers’ ruling on Friday affirmed several of the allegations set forth during the evidentiary hearings, however she disagreed on the extent to which the issue is ubiquitous to the prison.

“The Court also does not believe the government’s assertion that it has eradicated the issue of sexual misconduct. The truth is somewhere in the middle — allegations of sexual misconduct have lingered but to characterize it as pervasive goes too far,” the ruling reads. “Because of its inability to promptly investigate the allegations that remain, and the ongoing retaliation against incarcerated persons who report misconduct, BOP has lost the ability to manage with integrity and trust.”

KQED reporter Alex Hall contributed to this story.

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