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Prison Notorious for Rape Is Slated for Closure But Not Releasing Survivors

The Bureau of Prisons initially planned to empty FCI Dublin by April 19. Those inside fear being sent far from family.

Federal Correctional Institution, Dublin (FCI Dublin) is photographed in Dublin, California, on September 13, 2014.

Part of the Series

The sudden April 15 announcement that FCI Dublin, the federal women’s prison in California dubbed “the rape club,” is slated to be closed came as a shock to those inside — as well as to their attorneys, a federal judge and the monitor she recently appointed for independent oversight. For the women who have been raising an alarm for decades about the widespread and systemic sexual abuse committed by its prison guards, it should have been a victory. But they warn that if the closure simply results in shuffling them to other prisons across the country rather than access to compassionate release and early release, the decision simply compounds the harms they have already experienced.

Rhonda Fleming, a 58-year-old woman currently incarcerated at FCI Dublin, told Truthout that prison officials have already transferred people whose families are in California to states in the South and Midwest. An increasing number of other women were being processed for the lower-security prison camp. Seeing the dwindling numbers of people inside the prison, Fleming suspected that officials were planning to close the prison.

“Prison transfers are not the solution,” Fleming wrote in a brief to Judge Gonzalez Rogers on April 10, five days before the Bureau of Prisons publicly announced that FCI Dublin would be closing. “In many respects, these transfers are punishment.”

Susan Beaty, an attorney with the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice who is representing survivors of staff sexual abuse at Dublin, concurred.

“Sexual abuse, medical neglect and retaliation exists across the system,” Beaty told Truthout. “It doesn’t solve the problems to move people who have already been through so much to other places — farther away from their families and their attorneys — where they’re going to be subjected to very similar kinds of harm.”

Beaty is hoping that the planned prison closure becomes an opportunity for the BOP to release many people from prison altogether. “There are so many people eligible for early release, release to home confinement or transitional housing, and compassionate release,” they said.

A Sudden Announcement

“Kelly,” who is currently incarcerated at Dublin, told Truthout that on Monday morning, staff ushered the incarcerated people into a town hall. (Kelly asked that her real name not be published to avoid retaliation.)

There, she said, the interim warden made a brief announcement. The prison would be closing and everyone would be removed by April 19. They ordered people to return to their cells, pack their belongings, and stay quiet. Staff would knock on the doors of those who would leave that day.

“It doesn’t solve the problems to move people who have already been through so much to other places where they’re going to be subjected to very similar kinds of harm.”

Kelly spent the rest of the morning looking around her cell and deciding what she would be able to fit into the two boxes each person was allowed. “I have room for pictures of my kids, but not for hygiene,” she told Truthout. That meant that, at her destination, she would have to spend her hard-earned dollars to buy hygiene products and other items she had been forced to discard because of the move.

It was a dilemma shared by the 605 people incarcerated at FCI Dublin and its satellite camp. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) confirmed that both would be closed.

Dublin has long been plagued by widespread staff sexual abuse. Eight employees have been criminally charged with sexually abusing people in custody; seven have been found guilty and sentenced to prison. Sixty-three lawsuits have been filed by incarcerated people about the systemic sexual abuse. In mid-March, shortly after the FBI raided the prison, federal judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ordered a special master, or independent monitor, to oversee changes to the prison — the first ever in the history of the Bureau of Prisons.

The interim warden provided no further information about the closure. KTVU reported that buses were seen in the prison parking lot that morning, presumably to begin transferring the incarcerated people elsewhere.

“Prison Transfers Are Not the Solution”

The news came as a surprise to the attorneys and legal organizations representing survivors of sexual assault at Dublin as well as to Judge Rogers and the newly appointed special master.

“We remain concerned that the BOP is trying to evade accountability and transparency of a facility plagued by abuse, retaliation and dangerous conditions a week after a special master was appointed to bring outside oversight,” Beaty, one of the attorneys who is representing survivors of staff sexual abuse at the prison, told Truthout.

In a statement emailed to Truthout, BOP director Colette Peters wrote that “FCI Dublin is not meeting expected standards and … the best course of action is to close the facility. This decision is being made after ongoing evaluation of the effectiveness of those unprecedented steps and additional resources.”

Peters’s statement said those currently incarcerated at Dublin will be transferred to other prisons. “As we determine placement, each woman will be assessed, and their programming needs will be taken into account. Per policy and practice, we will endeavor to keep them as close to their release locations as possible and ensure that they have access to counsel at their receiving institution,” she wrote.

But Rhonda Fleming told Truthout that as early as last Thursday, prison officials had transferred several people, many of whom had families in southern California, to federal prisons in Oklahoma and Illinois. “They believed they were going to Victorville camp [88 miles from Los Angeles]. Instead, they are on their way to Pekin or Greenville, Illinois,” she told Truthout. “The evil is beyond comprehension. A false rumor was put out to make them believe they were going closer to their families in L.A. or San Diego. I know several that would have gone to the SHU [Special Housing Unit] before they would have willingly been shipped like slaves to Illinois.”

The BOP has stated that no employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure, leading to the probability that they, too, may be transferred to other prisons.

Kelly’s family must drive nearly 20 hours to visit her at Dublin. But, she reminded Truthout, FCI Dublin is the only low-security federal women’s prison in the area and many of those incarcerated have families in California or parts of Mexico. Transferring to another low security women’s prison would mean sending them to Minnesota or Alabama or Florida. And, she added, she and others would encounter the same medical neglect and staff misconduct in other prisons. The sudden closure and move, she said, “is just re-traumatizing us.”

Danielle Metz agrees. Shortly after she entered Dublin in 1993, her family moved from New Orleans to California so that she could maintain a bond with her young children. She remained at Dublin for 23 years before being granted clemency by Obama and released in 2016. Now the clemency director for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, she told Truthout that she would have been devastated if she had been transferred away from her family.

What’s needed instead of transfers, she said, is decarceration. “We don’t need a face lift,” she said. “We need relief. They need to let people start going home. We could start by granting clemency and compassionate relief to the people inside.”

That afternoon, Judge Gonzalez Rogers essentially paused the BOP’s plans to empty the prison by April 19. She ordered the BOP instead to update casework for each incarcerated person, including their classification and release date. She also ordered that each case be reviewed with the newly appointed special master prior to transfer.

According to another woman inside, as a result of the judge’s order, 40 women were taken off a transfer bus. (She herself was not on the bus.)

The BOP declined to comment on the judge’s order or how it might change the timeline for closing Dublin. The initial statement from Director Colette Peters ended cryptically: “The closure of the institution may be temporary but certainly will result in a mission change.”

While she sees the closure of FCI Dublin as a victory, Fleming knows that simply transferring people to other prisons will not address the pervasive staff abuse, lack of medical care or host of other problems. The BOP has stated that no employees will lose their jobs as a result of the closure, leading to the probability that they, too, may be transferred to other prisons.

“No matter where the FBOP transfers women, we are subjected to the same individuals and their family members, sexually abusing us and/or retaliating against us,” she wrote in a brief to Judge Gonzalez Rogers in early April, noting that many prisons employ multiple members of the same family. “If I am not sent to home confinement, I will be at another prison with the friends and/or family members of present and former FBOP employees.” She continues to press for release to home confinement — both for herself and others.

However, Peters’s statement limited transfers only to other BOP prisons. Judge Rogers’s order, on the other hand, expanded options to include not only transfer to other prisons, but also home confinement, halfway houses or compassionate release.

Meanwhile, an air of uncertainty and fear hangs over hundreds.

“Today was one of the most stressful days — and I wasn’t even on the bus,” Kelly reflected.

“Evelyn” agrees. She has been at Dublin for over five years, where she has continually requested medical care for seizures. Now, she told Truthout, “What’s happening here is harming us psychologically and emotionally.” (She asked to be identified by a pseudonym to prevent retaliation.) “We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Are we going to the SHU or be transferred?”

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