Senators Demand Answers After A.P. Investigation Uncovers Prison Sexual Abuse

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Rampant Prison Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Exposed in Associated Press Investigation

Rampant Prison Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Exposed in Associated Press Investigation

Dec 13, 2022

An investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons by the Associated Press (AP) has exposed rampant misconduct on the part of high-ranking officials, including sexual abuse and whistleblower retaliation.

As a result of the investigation’s troubling findings, senators are demanding answers, according to a report from KTLA. Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, indicated that he plans to question the director of the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

“I am very concerned about the allegations in this article and whether BOP will address abuses, prioritize safety, and improve their flawed approach to misconduct investigations,” Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, tweeted following the release of the AP’s investigative report.

In its investigation, the AP found that the BOP “has repeatedly promoted and continues to stand by a high-ranking official who beat Black inmates in the 1990s.” That official, Thomas Ray Hinkle, rose to the position of deputy western regional director for the BOP.

Furthermore, Durbin and a group of senators are reportedly seeking answers from the Justice Department relative to the “federal prison system’s handling of rampant staff misconduct, including staff-on-inmate sexual abuse, and whistleblower retaliation,” according to KTLA.

Senators joining Durbin in issuing a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco include:

  • Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican
  • Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat
  • Alex Padilla, California Democrat

In their letter, the senators reportedly requested additional information and implored the Justice Department to take immediate action to “root out staff misconduct.”

“The Justice Department formed a working group in July to evaluate its handling of staff sexual abuse after the warden and several other workers at a federal women’s prison in Dublin, California, were arrested for sexually abusing inmates. An AP investigation revealed that the allegations stemmed from a toxic culture of abuse and coverups at the Bay Area lockup. The working group issued a report with its findings in November,” KTLA reported.

Bureau of Prisons Director Colette Peters is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. KTLA reported that Peters will likely face questions related to sexual abuse as well as cover-ups. The panel, chaired by Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia, has been conducting its own investigation into sexual abuse of female inmates in federal prisons, according to KTLA. Peters will also meet with Senator Durbin separately.

Both prison workers and union officials picketed Monday outside of the Bureau of Prisons Western Regional Office in Stockton, California, citing their anger related to the AP’s investigation.

Protestors called on the agency to fire Thomas Ray Hinkle and his boss, Regional Director Melissa Rios, KTLA reported.

California Representative Jackie Speier reportedly echoed that sentiment. KTLA indicated that Speier reported a hostile encounter with Hinkle in February while on a site visit to investigate staff sexual abuse at the troubled federal women’s prison in Dublin.

The details revealed here are deeply disturbing,” Speier said via a tweet which linked to the AP article. “If only half of what is reported is true, Hinkle should be terminated immediately. I will be following up with BOP for answers.”

Published Friday, the AP’s investigation revealed that the Bureau of Prisons:

  • Repeatedly promoted Hinkle despite numerous red flags
  • Rewarded him again and again over a three-decade career while others who assaulted inmates lost their jobs and went to prison

Prison Sexual Abuse Cases ‘Mishandled’ According to DOJ Memo

Earlier this year, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials released a memo highlighting systemic flaws in how prosecutors assess reports of sexual abuse made by inmates against employees of the Bureau of Prisons.

“The Department’s obligation to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those in our custody is enduring,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco wrote in the memo which asserted that federal prosecutors should use “all available tools” to hold BOP employees who sexually or physically abuse inmates in their custody to the fullest extent of the law.

An earlier investigative report from the AP uncovered rampant allegations of sexual abuse across the BOP’s 122 facilities and approximately 153,000 inmates. 422 complaints of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse were made in 2020, according to the AP. Additionally, the AP report indicated that a “rape club” culture existed at the federal women’s correctional institution in Dublin, California.

The Dublin prison reportedly allowed for a “a permissive and toxic culture… enabling years of sexual misconduct by predatory employees and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.”

Dublin, California, Prison Warden Charged With Sex Crimes

In October 2021, we posted a blog detailing how Ray J. Garcia, warden at the Federal Corrections Institute Dublin, was charged with sexually abusing an inmate. The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed the following charges, unsealed by federal prosecutors at the time:

  • Digitally penetrating at least one of his female wards on multiple occasions
  • Asking at least two inmates to strip naked for him
  • Taking and storing photographs of a naked inmate in a cell

Garcia was accused of attempting to deter a victim from reporting the sexual abuse by telling her “that he was ‘close friends’ with the individual responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by inmates and … that he could not be fired,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

San Joaquin County Jail Worker Indicted for Sexually Assaulting Female Inmates

Another sexual assault scandal involving a California correctional officer made headlines in December of 2021.

Alex Tafoya, a worker at the San Joaquin County Jail, was indicted on multiple counts of sexually assaulting female inmates.

Tafoya, who had reportedly been employed as a correctional officer for approximately 12 years, was indicted on the following charges:

  • Oral copulation by force
  • Sexual penetration by force
  • False imprisonment by violence, fraud, or deceit
  • Assault by a police officer

Tafoya’s indictment was the second case involving sex crime allegations against a San Joaquin County correctional officer. In October 2021, Zachary Simmons, an officer at the County Jail, was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple inmates.

Simmons was sentenced to eight years in prison after a jury found him guilty of having raped an inmate in 2015. He was convicted on the following charges:

  • Felony sexual penetration with force or fear
  • Sexual activity with a confined adult in a detention center
  • Misdemeanor communicating with a prisoner without consent

The jury further found Tafoya guilty of committing other sex crimes with two inmates in 2015 and 2018.

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