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Survivors of Prison Staff Abuse Say Transfer to New Facilities Hasn’t Ended Harm

When FCI Dublin closed, people were transferred to a dozen prisons where they face ongoing mistreatment and retaliation.

Dublin Prison Solidarity Coalition rallies outside FCI Dublin on April 19, 2024.

In mid-April, the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced the immediate closure of FCI Dublin, a federal women’s prison in California that had long been plagued by staff-perpetrated sexual abuse and retaliation. Eight employees had been criminally charged with sexually abusing people in custody; seven were found guilty and sentenced to prison. Sixty-three lawsuits, as well as a class action lawsuit, had been filed over the systemic sexual abuse. The FBI has twice raided the prison. And for the first time in BOP history, a federal judge appointed a special master, or independent monitor, to oversee much needed changes to the abuse-ridden facility.

Federal prison officials announced the abrupt shuttering of Dublin just 10 days after the appointment of a special master.

Within days, Dublin’s 605 incarcerated people were loaded onto buses and transferred to a dozen federal prisons across the country, some as far as Florida and Alabama. Many have reported ongoing mistreatment and retaliation for speaking up about the abuses at Dublin.

“The BOP’s choice to abruptly close FCI Dublin and rush transfers under inhumane conditions was a naked attempt to evade accountability and further punish incarcerated people,” said Susan Beaty, senior attorney at the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice and co-counsel on the Dublin class action lawsuit. “After failing to address heinous abuse — or even provide for incarcerated peoples’ most basic needs — for years, the BOP instead marshaled its resources to scatter hundreds of people to facilities across the country that are also rife with abuse and neglect.”

“We know that the same problems — sexual assault, retaliation, unsanitary conditions and lack of medical care — are happening in other prisons,” said Amaris Montes, an attorney with Rights Behind Bars and co-counsel on the Dublin class action lawsuit. “These are the result not just of individual officers but the whole BOP and BOP policies.”

In early May, Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers issued a 15-page order calling the prison closure “ill-conceived and, like Swiss cheese, full of holes.” She ruled that the Bureau of Prisons must still provide medical and mental health care to those transferred from Dublin. She also ordered that the BOP provide a monthly staffing report to her and the special master for each prison where the women had been transferred. The reports must include each prison’s staffing level and the types of mental and medical health care that the women are receiving. Those reports have yet to be submitted.

On May 20, Judge Gonzalez Rogers expanded the authority of the special master to ensure that the 605 women and trans people who had been transferred from Dublin received the “appropriate follow up care and support in their new facilities.”

Two days later, on May 22, the federal court held the first public hearing since the prison’s closure. The judge set a trial date for the class action lawsuit for June 2025.

More Than 29 Hours in Chains

Catherine Sevcenko, senior counsel for the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, has received approximately two dozen messages about the transfers and ongoing mistreatment at the prisons. Truthout is not publishing the names of these women to minimize the risk of further retaliation.

The transfers were often harrowing and punitive — with guards alternately blasting “The Wheels on the Bus” and sexually explicit music at top volume, setting the air conditioning to freezing temperatures, barraging the women with insults and driving erratically — often causing women, who were handcuffed and shackled, to fall from their seats and fear for their lives.

“A” described spending three days in transit from California to the federal detention center in Miami, Florida, “in chains and in freezing cold conditions, with no opportunity to sleep. We were denied medications, pads and toilet paper. We experienced more than 29 hours in chains. All inmates arrived to FDC Miami exhausted, with terrible bruises and cuts around their wrists and ankles from having been tightly handcuffed and legs tightly shackled, and with bruises around their waists from overly tight belly chains worn for such an extremely long time.”

Despite media attention and outcry from federal legislators, the next group of women arriving from Dublin were subjected to the same treatment.

“B” reported that, during the bus ride from the Philadelphia airport to the federal prison in Hazelton, West Virginia, an officer stated, “We should just shoot all these Dublin inmates.”

“At this point they got off the bus and pulled out the guns and acted like they were getting ready to shoot us,” B recalled. The officers did not shoot anyone, but when they resumed driving, they blasted the air conditioning while swerving and stopping short throughout the four-hour drive.

“If We Weren’t Victims, We Are Now”

Once at their destinations, women reported more harassment, threats and retaliation. And for those already in those prisons, the sudden influx has exacerbated already inadequate conditions.

“Rules have been instated [sic] now because ‘Dublin’ is here,” described “C” who was transferred to Hazelton. She said that memos were posted throughout the prison about the class action lawsuit. “This has caused tension between Dublin girls and the population so staff hate us and so do the inmates. The staff here treat us with disrespect, they cuss at us. The prison gets locked down often … this is the fifth lockdown in eight days. If we ask a staff member’s name we are told it is none of our business, or they act like they don’t know their own name.”

At the federal prison in Waseca, Minnesota, the arrivals from Dublin have exacerbated the prison’s already inadequate and delayed medical treatment. “D,” who had been at Waseca for over a year, reported that staff have pitted the two groups against each other. Fearful of the outside scrutiny of press, lawyers and the special master, she wrote that the prison has prioritized those from Dublin over those who have long been waiting for medical care, including outside specialist appointments. Meanwhile, she said, depression, suicide attempts, drug use and overdoses remain a constant, yet unaddressed, reality.

“Tension is really high here,” D wrote. “Psych [psychiatric counseling] is simply unavailable. If we weren’t victims, we are now. We are exposed to heavy toxins, depressions, fights, bizarre episodes, staff retaliations and just angry inmates that were moved here away from families.”

“E,” who was transferred, said that staff constantly referred to the new arrivals as “ho’s from Dublin,” “bitches,” “rats” and “snitches.”

Women sent to the federal medical prison in Carswell, Texas, reported being denied medications. They have also been subjected to repeated drug tests, cell searches and incident reports. “They are constantly asking all of us if we are from Dublin, who is from Dublin and then we get searched,” “F” stated. Women who were transferred to other prisons have reported similar targeting.

“G” was transferred to the federal prison camp in Bryan, Texas. She said that, upon arrival, a lieutenant asked her, “How is my friend Lt. Hardy doing at FCI Dublin?”

The lieutenant he named had been removed from Dublin months earlier and was under investigation for retaliation and misconduct against the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit.

“This was no accidental inquiry,” G wrote in an e-message to Judge Gonzalez Rogers, which she shared with Truthout. “This was intentional conduct to intimidate me and set a tone. The next day, with me being at the institution less than 24 hours, this same lieutenant can be seen on camera, screaming across the prison compound asking me if I had my identification card on me and another time about the color of a T-shirt I was wearing, which she issued to me.”

G reported these incidents to the administration. She said that their response was, “This is not Dublin. We don’t run the prison like Dublin.”

But, she said, “This prison is run just like FCI Dublin. Women here are crying about the lack of medical care, mold/asbestos related illnesses, sexual abuse, etc. From what I see, the climate of this prison is the same as FCI Dublin … the first time I was sexually harassed, in my life, was right here at FPC Bryan. This place is as corrupt as any other federal women’s prison.”

G told Truthout that another woman, also transferred from Dublin, was denied the use of a CPAP machine despite having been authorized to use one during her years at Dublin.

“H,” who had already been at Bryan before the transfers, said she had previously been sexually assaulted by staff. Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act, she should have been able to report the abuse, but was prevented from doing so.

At another prison, half a dozen women told Sevcenko that prison staff raised their monthly payments for restitution. Although the court orders restitution as part of a person’s sentence, federal district courts have differed in interpreting the latitude of prison staff in calculating payments. At the new prison, some were ordered to pay double or triple the previous monthly amount despite either having no job or jobs that paid pennies per hour. At least one woman has been ordered to pay 10 times more than her monthly payments at Dublin. Failure to meet these payments can result in losing time credits off their prison sentence and becoming ineligible for early release under the First Step Act.

When asked about these allegations, the Bureau of Prisons stated, “The safe and compassionate transition of the women from FCI Dublin is a top priority of the FBOP. We have taken these allegations and forwarded them to the respective executive employees at [the prisons named]. Your message, in its’ entirety [sic], will also be shared directly with the Office of Internal Affairs for further review and action, if warranted.”

But Sevcenko views this as widespread retaliation against the dozens of women who have broken the silence about the systemic sexual abuse.

“The National Council frequently supports individual women who have fought back against their abusers and then have been targeted by the criminal legal system, work led by a national coalition called Survived and Punished,” she told Truthout. “The BOP has perpetrated this injustice on a massive scale by punishing an entire prison population for finally managing to draw attention to years of sexual abuse. Incarcerated people are getting the message loud and clear: Don’t object to rape or molestation or you will suffer even more. Where is the outrage from victims’ advocates and those who champion women’s rights? To paraphrase Dr. King, the ultimate tragedy will be their silence.”

Beaty agrees. “People formerly at FCI Dublin have endured horrendous mistreatment and retaliation, both during the transfer process and at their new BOP facilities,” they told Truthout. “BOP must be held accountable for the trauma it continues to inflict, and people transferred from FCI Dublin must be provided necessary care, protected from further abuse, safeguarded from deportation and released whenever possible.”

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