Closure of California federal prison was poorly planned, judge says in ordering further monitoring

A federal judge says a plan to close a troubled prison in California where female inmates suffered sexual abuse by guards was “ill-conceived and, like Swiss cheese, full of holes.”

Christopher Weber
Thursday 09 May 2024 22:33 BST
Federal Prisons
Federal Prisons (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The plan to close a troubled prison in California where female inmates suffered sexual abuse by guards was “ill-conceived,” a judge said while ordering close monitoring and care of the incarcerated women who were moved to other federal facilities across the country.

U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers said in Wednesday's order that last month's decision by the Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, to shut down FCI Dublin “created serious concerns” for the well being of more than 600 women who were transferred out.

The prisons bureau announced April 15 that it would shutter FCI Dublin despite attempts to reform the beleaguered facility after an Associated Press investigation exposed rampant staff-on-inmate abuse. Just 10 days before the closure announcement, the judge took the unprecedented step of appointing a special master to oversee the prison near Oakland.

“Although it had as much time as needed to prepare, BOP’s operational plan for closure of FCI Dublin was ill-conceived and, like Swiss cheese, full of holes,” the judge wrote Wednesday.

Gonzalez Rogers ordered the bureau to provide a weekly status update for each transfer to the judge, the special master and attorneys for the incarcerated women who are suing the bureau.

In addition, federal officials must submit a monthly staffing report for each prison where the incarcerated women ended up, along with details of the mental health and medical health care the inmates are receiving.

Late last month, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to the BOP expressing concern over claims of a chaotic transfer process during which FCI Dublin inmates on buses and planes didn’t receive proper medical care and were reportedly subjected to “mistreatment, harassment, neglect, and abuse while in transit.”

Gonzalez Rogers emphasized those concerns and said that “BOP ignored other operational issues” including the proper movement of inmates' property.

The BOP said Thursday that it doesn't comment on matters pending before the court. However the bureau reiterated that its closure plan was carefully considered over months.

“The process involved careful planning and coordination to ensure the safe transfer of women to other facilities, with special attention given to their unique programming, medical, and mental health requirements,” the BOP statement said. “We continue to expect that the women’s needs are addressed with compassion and respect, providing ongoing support as needed.”

Gonzalez Rogers on Wednesday also denied a recent motion filed by the BOP questioning the authority of the special master. The judge scheduled a May 16 hearing on that issue.

A 2021 Associated Press investigation exposed a “rape club” culture at the prison where a pattern of abuse and mismanagement went back years, even decades. The bureau repeatedly promised to improve the culture and environment — but the decision to shutter the facility represented an extraordinary acknowledgment that reform efforts have failed.

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