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Infamous Women’s Prison Plagued by Sex Abuse Closes

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The closure comes after a judge ordered independent third-party oversight of the scandal-plagued prison.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons abruptly announced that it will shut down Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, the federal women’s prison infamous for an alleged culture of sexual abuse. KQED’s Alex Hall tells us why this news took many people by surprise, and what it could mean for the hundreds of women inside.


Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra and welcome to the Bay. Local news to keep you rooted. The Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin or FCI Dublin, has faced allegations of sexual abuse for years. There are nearly 60 lawsuits against the women’s prison, including a class action lawsuit alleging sexual assault and retaliation from guards and other prison officials.

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Speaker: I mean, I’ve personally witnessed a bunch of, like, sexual assault the officers used to cover for each other. Officers used to stand, stand, point, like, you know, stand and keep a lookout for other officers while they do whatever they do.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: In recent weeks, it seemed like the feds were bent on cleaning up the place. The FBI raided the facility, and a third party was appointed to make sure the prison implemented reforms. Then suddenly, this week, the Bureau of Prisons ordered FCI Dublin to shut down.

Newscaster: We’ve talked to a number of lawyers, attorneys who represent women inside this prison, who have been involved in some lawsuits surrounding the prison, saying they’re pretty shocked to hear the news this morning. There are about 600 inmates at the all female.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Today, the closure of FCI Dublin, and what this could mean for the hundreds of women who are incarcerated there.

Alex Hall: So the Bureau of Prisons announced this week that they are officially closing FCI Dublin.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Alex Hall is an enterprise and accountability reporter for KQED.

Alex Hall: The Federal Bureau of Prisons is the government agency that oversees and operates all of the federal prisons in the United States. At the agency’s director, Collette Peters, issued a statement saying that, you know, for the past several years, the Bureau of Prisons has really taken unprecedented steps and provided a tremendous amount of resources to address the culture at FCI Dublin. But despite those steps, the prison is not meeting expected standards.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I mean, was this a big surprise, this announcement, Alex?

Alex Hall: This has been a long time coming. There’s been waves of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations. There’s numerous lawsuits alleging harassment, retaliation, sexual assault. The question is, why now? We’re at a very specific and unprecedented moment in the timeline of FCI Dublin and all of the challenges that the facility has faced in recent years.

Alex Hall: It was only about a week ago that a federal judge appointed a special master to oversee a series of reforms at FCI Dublin. So the special master has full access to the prison’s records. She has a team of experts hired to support her. She is tasked with overseeing a number of immediate changes at the prison. Wendy still was appointed on April 5th

Alex Hall: That’s a week ago last Friday. From what I heard, she really hit the ground running. She was at the prison at least twice last week. And then on Monday we heard, actually, the prison is shutting down. So I think a lot of people are asking the question of what was Bureau prisons leadership thinking?

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What have their reactions been so far? What are you hearing, especially from inside the prison?

Alex Hall: I spoke with Ashley Castillo. She’s an inmate at FCI Dublin. She’s been there for about six years. She says she found out Monday morning when she woke up because other inmates were saying the prison is shutting down.

Ashley Castillo: Around 830 in the in the morning. We just got woken up and it was by inmates saying, we’re on the news. We’re on the news. They’re closing Dublin down. So we were like, what?

Alex Hall: She told me that Monday when people were notified, they were told, 100 women are going to leave the prison per day, and that by Friday everyone would be gone.

Ashley Castillo: And then they called my name and they said, oh, Castillo, you know, you need to pack your stuff if you’re one of the one that’s leaving today.

Alex Hall: They were told, you know, what items they could bring with them, which items they couldn’t bring with them. She said they were given a green bag to to put their items in. Some women actually got on a bus, she said. And then some point they just turned around and came right back.

Ashley Castillo: Like around 230 ish, the special master, she came in and said, the judge has put a stop to our movement because we’re not medically cleared to go. So yeah, so they just made us pack our lives and then for nothing.

Alex Hall: The situation sounds a little chaotic. I’ve spoken with attorneys, too, who have said Monday they were hearing from their clients that I’m going to be sent somewhere. I don’t know where. I don’t know when. Bopp wouldn’t disclose when the women were being transferred for security reasons.

Alex Hall: And then within a matter of hours, I was hearing from attorneys who said, actually, now we’re being told that the transfers are on hold. So we know as much as you we’re just trying to keep up with what’s going on. One attorney told me that she couldn’t even get a hold of her clients.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: We’re talking about more than 650 people incarcerated caught up in this chaos. What do we know, Alex, about what is going to happen to them? Or do we know where these women are going?

Alex Hall: We don’t. I mean, we heard word that women were being transferred Monday, but then the situation changed very quickly when there was a hearing that was held immediately within, you know, hours of this announcement being made. Basically, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued this order saying that Bop sHall: update casework for all of the women at FCI Dublin, and that this is required in part to ensure that they are transferred to the correct location.

Alex Hall: That includes whether the women should be released to another Bop facility, of which, you know, there are a limited number of low security female federal women’s prisons in this country. They’re not all clustered on the West Coast, so it is possible that they could be transferred to facilities states away from their families.

Kara Janssen: Folks may want the facility overall to close, or people may see that as a positive things. At the same time, it has some negative impacts on folks.

Alex Hall: So I spoke with Kara Janssen, who is one of the attorneys who’s representing women who filed this class action lawsuit back in August.

Kara Janssen: If your family is here and you’re transferred, you know, across the country to another camp, that’s going to be harder to see your family. It’s going to be harder to talk to your kids on the phone if you’re in a different time zone.

Alex Hall: Her understanding is that people were transferred on Monday before the judge really caught wind that this was happening.

Kara Janssen: People who were supposed to get transferred or had released these coming up are worried that in that transfer process, you know, things will go wrong, you know, and folks don’t know what they’re going to face or where they’re even going to go. So there’s a lot of fear and concern in the facility.

Alex Hall: We’re hearing a lot of different things right now. Some say nobody has been transferred yet. Some say some of the women were transferred on Monday and that, you know, the transfers were put on hold once the judge’s order was issued. But it’s just really hard to know for sure right now.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What about the staff of this prison? Alex? Will they be transferred somewhere else? Will they be fired? What’s going on with them?

Alex Hall: I mean, BOP says that staff will not lose their jobs. There are multiple employees. We’re on administrative leave right now. The. So the facility has really struggled with staffing in recent months. For those who are still working there, it’s unclear what’s going to happen to them, but apparently they will maintain employment with the agency whether or not they are transferred to another facility and they have to move or not. It’s it’s unclear.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: And what about the actual building itself? Is it going to get torn down? What’s going to happen with with the facility?

Alex Hall: That’s another really big unknown. Bob, in their statement said that the closure may be temporary, which was pretty ambiguous. It’s unclear if that means that the prison is going to resume operations at some point in the future, or if the government is still working that out, we really don’t know.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, I guess besides the shock that people are feeling in the in the chaos, how would you, I guess, describe the range of reactions and emotions you’ve seen to this news so far?

 

Alex Hall: I think on the one hand, people you know can see the value in the decision and that this facility has had major issues for years.

 

Jenna Davidson: My first reaction is, thank God, honestly.

Alex Hall: Jenna Davidson was formerly incarcerated at FCI Dublin for a couple of years. She was recently released and she’s now living nearby with her family, but she’s in really close contact with a lot of the women inside.

Jenna Davidson: It does suck for some of the women that are in there because they have to be transferred, but at least are not dealing with the same administration. That has been like screwing them over, you know what I mean?

Alex Hall: I think on the one hand, it’s probably, you know, a relief. But on the other hand, you know, obviously these women are being abruptly uprooted and being sent to they don’t know where. And so, you know, if you’re being told you’re have to leave today or by the end of the week, get rid of all your stuff. It can just be really scary.

Ashley Castillo I’m stressed out a lot because I’m from California. I don’t want to leave.

Alex Hall: Ashley told me she is stressed out. Her family is in California. She said that she hasn’t seen her son for years since he was 11 months old. She says she gave birth to him in prison and hasn’t seen him since. You know, he was almost a year old, you know? Now, at this point, depending on, you know, where she’s going, it’s most likely going to be pretty far away.

Ashley Castillo: My parents are here. They were going to just come and me for my birthday. Like I want to see my family. I haven’t seen them since Covid. Like I just want to go home so bad.

Alex Hall: You know, her attorney told me her family most likely is not going to be able to afford to fly to wherever she’s going to be next. She doesn’t know where she’s going next. She said that in her attorney said that sometimes when you are transferred in Bop custody, it takes quite a bit of time to come out on the other side. You don’t know where you’re going because bop says, you know, that’s a security breach.

Alex Hall: You don’t want to tell the inmates exactly where they’re going, so they don’t know until they get there. She might go to some sort of detention facility before she actually reaches her final destination and might not be able to contact her attorney or her family for a couple of weeks a week. So it’s just really stressful. You know, she has no idea what’s going to happen.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What about all of these lawsuits that we’ve talked about in the in the beginning? Is there a chance still for these victims to get justice now that the prison is closing?

Alex Hall: These lawsuits are seeking monetary compensation for abuse or harassment that is alleged to have happened in the past. And this doesn’t change that, right? But what it could impact is the access that women have to their attorneys. It might be harder for plaintiffs lawyers to access their clients. Most of the women have West Coast attorneys.

Alex Hall: So if they’re moved to another state like Texas, for example, that kind of complicates things. One of the attorneys I talked to said that she was scheduling a meeting with a psychological expert to evaluate her client. Now she has to find a new one. You know, there are concerns that the women will be shipped away from their support systems and their families, and that they could face similar problems in other facilities.

Alex Hall: But, you know, in another sense, it might help the lawsuits and that it kind of shows the magnitude of the problems at FCI Dublin. When you have an acknowledgment directly from Bop that FCI Dublin cannot be reasonably operated any longer, that could impact the outcomes of these claims.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: What happens from here? Like what updates could unfold over the next couple of weeks, given there’s so much we don’t know yet?

Alex Hall: I think that we’re going to know within days what is happening with a lot of these women and where they’re going. One looming question is, will there be more indictments? The Department of Justice’s investigation into FCI Dublin is still ongoing. The FBI was just at the prison conducting a court authorized search last month.

Alex Hall: So it’s unclear whether or not there will be more criminal charges against officials at FCI Dublin. The also the outcomes of the lawsuits, the class action and the 58 other individual damages cases. I think that the special master’s presence was expected to do a lot for transparency and help us all understand what was actually happening inside of the prison. She was already at the prison last week.

Alex Hall: We don’t know exactly what she was doing, but she was expected to write reports about what she was finding out. And so I think that some of that information might still come out. It’s unclear exactly what is going to happen with the special master or where the women end up, but a lot of that, I think, will become clear in the coming days, in the coming weeks.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, Alex, thanks so much for breaking this all down for us. I really appreciate it.

Alex Hall: Absolutely. Thanks for inviting me.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: That was Alex Hall, enterprise and accountability reporter for KQED. This 35 minute conversation with Alex was cut down and edited by senior editor Alan Montecillo. Ellie Prickett-Morgan is our intern. They scored this episode and added all the tape. Maria Esquinca is our producer.

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Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Extra production support from me. Music courtesy of Bluedot sessions. The Bay is a production of listener supported KQED in San Francisco. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thanks for listening. Talk to you next time.

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