AP Investigation Reveals Culture of Sexual Abuse at California Women's Prison

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‘Rape Club’ Culture of Sexual Abuse Uncovered at California Women’s Prison

‘Rape Club’ Culture of Sexual Abuse Uncovered at California Women’s Prison

Feb 8, 2022

An investigation by the Associated Press (AP) has uncovered a systemic culture of sexual abuse at a federal women’s correctional institution in Dublin, California. Inmates at the facility, one of the only federal women’s prisons in the United States, were reportedly subjected to “rampant sexual abuse” by corrections officers as well as the warden, according to the AP report.

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Described to AP investigators as “The rape club” by both prisoners and workers at the prison, threats or punishments were reportedly imposed on anyone who “tried to speak up.”

The AP report further indicated that the investigation discovered “a permissive and toxic culture at the Bay Area lockup, enabling years of sexual misconduct by predatory employees and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.

The AP investigation utilized a number of source materials, including:

  • Internal federal Bureau of Prisons documents
  • Statements and recordings from inmates
  • Interviews with current and former prison employees
  • Interviews with current and former inmates
  • A review of thousands of pages of court documents (from both criminal and civil cases involving Dublin prison staff members)

According to the AP investigation, allegations made by women inmates against the mostly male prison staff were typically ignored or “set aside.” Prisoners who reported sexual abuse could reportedly be sent to solitary confinement. Moreover, prison officials in charge of preventing and investigating sexual misconduct were themselves often accused of “abusing inmates or neglecting their concerns,” according to the AP.

As the AP report notes, any sexual activity between a prison inmate and an employee is illegal. “Correctional employees enjoy substantial power over inmates, controlling every aspect of their lives from mealtime to lights out, and there is no scenario in which an inmate can give consent,” the AP reported.

But the AP investigation uncovered multiple instances of sexual misconduct, including:

  • One female inmate reported that a man – her prison work supervisor – taunted her by remarking “let the games begin” after assigning her to work with a maintenance foreman she had accused of rape.
  • One inmate claimed the accused foreman “wanted to get inmates pregnant.
  • The warden in charge at Dublin kept nude photos on his government-issued cellphone of a woman he is accused of sexually assaulting.
  • One inmate described being “overwhelmed with fear, anxiety, and anger, and cried uncontrollably” after enduring abuse and retaliation at the Dublin prison.
  • One inmate said she contemplated suicide when her cries for help went unheeded. She also reported suffering from severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the AP report, the allegations of sexual misconduct at Dublin prison have resulted in four arrests. But the investigation also notes that widespread misconduct at the federal women’s prison is indicative of a “larger problem” within the Bureau of Prisons.

Sexual Abuse Rampant at Federal Prisons

Sexual Abuse Rampant at Federal Prisons
In 2020, there were 422 complaints of staff-on-inmate sexual abuse across the system of 122 prisons and 153,000 inmates, according to the AP. Despite the volume of complaints, the agency said it substantiated only four of them (while 290 are reportedly still being investigated). According to the AP, the Bureau of Prisons would not confirm whether the allegations were concentrated in women’s prisons or spread throughout the system.

Among the instances of “corruption and misconduct” within the federal prison system, the AP report specifically highlighted:

  • Widespread criminal activity among employees
  • Critically low staffing levels (thereby hindering the Bureau’s response to emergencies)
  • The rapid spread of COVID-19
  • A failed response to the pandemic
  • Dozens of inmate escapes

Furthermore, two inmates were killed last week in a gang clash at a federal penitentiary in Texas. The incident prompted a nationwide lockdown, according to an AP report.

Michael Carvajal, director of the federal Bureau of Prisons, announced he was resigning in January. Thahesha Jusino, who will reportedly be taking over as the Dublin prison’s warden, pledged to “work tirelessly to reaffirm the Bureau of Prisons’ zero tolerance for sexual abuse and sexual harassment,” according to the AP.

With the Justice Department’s inspector general conducting multiple active investigations into misconduct at the federal women’s prison, Jusino told the AP that the agency is fully cooperating.

I am committed to ensuring the safety of our inmates, staff, and the public,” she said in a statement to the AP. “A culture of misconduct, or actions not representative of the BOP’s Core Values will not be tolerated.

In a separate statement, the Justice Department asserted that “Zero tolerance means exactly that. The Justice Department is committed to both holding accountable any staff who violate their position of trust and to preventing these crimes from happening in the first place.”

The Dublin federal corrections institute is reportedly 21 miles east of Oakland, California. It was opened in 1974 and in 2012 was converted into one of just six women-only facilities within the federal prison system. As of February 1, the AP reported that the federal women’s prison had approximately 750 inmates, with many serving sentences for drug crimes. Around 6.5% of the overall federal inmate population is comprised of women, according to the AP.

When Were the First Complaints of Sexual Abuse Made at Dublin Women’s Prison?

According to the AP report, court records and internal agency documents confirm women began making internal complaints to staff members around five years ago. But the AP was unable to verify whether or not those complaints ever led to any action on the part of prison officials. According to the women who made the complaints, they were “largely ignored” and the abuse continued.

The AP investigation highlighted some specific instances of inaction following reports of sexual abuse at the Dublin women’s prison:

  • One inmate who reported a 2017 sexual assault said she was told nothing would be done about her complaint because it was a “he said-she said.” She is now suing the Bureau of Prisons, claiming she was fired from her prison commissary job out of retaliation.
  • In 2019, another Dublin inmate sued alleging that a maintenance foreman repeatedly raped her and that other workers facilitated the abuse and mocked her for it. When an internal prison investigator “finally caught wind of what was happening,” the woman reported that she was the one who got punished – with three months in solitary confinement and a transfer to a federal prison in Alabama.
  • In 2020, an inmate’s report detailing Dublin workers abusing inmates made its way to the Justice Department’s inspector general and the FBI. The allegations triggered a criminal investigation that led to the arrest of four employees, including former warden Ray J. Garcia.

If convicted, each worker could receive a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.

Dublin Women’s Prison Warden Charged with Sexually Abusing Inmate

As we noted in an October post, 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

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, 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.”

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

Additionally, the jury found him guilty of committing other sex crimes with two inmates in 2015 and 2018.

How to File a Prison Sexual Abuse Lawsuit

If you’re a survivor of sexual abuse – whether at the hands of a prison official, police officer, or anyone in a position of power – you have rights under the law. Regardless of whether or not any criminal charges are brought against your perpetrator, you may file a separate civil lawsuit in pursuit of financial compensation for various losses.

Some common damages that may be recoverable through a sexual abuse civil claim include:

  • Emotional trauma
  • Lost wages
  • Lost earning capacity
  • Counseling or therapy costs
  • Diminished quality of life

Our Sexual Assault Justice Experts are here to help survivors secure justice. Contact our top-rated attorneys online or by phone for a free consultation today.

A sexual abuse civil lawsuit can me a means of not only helping a survivor obtain justice, but also holding the perpetrator accountable for his or her actions. Dordulian Law Group’s (DLG) SAJE Team of professionals have helped countless sexual abuse survivors secure justice and recover maximum financial damages awards for their claims.

Founded by a former sex crimes prosecutor and Deputy District Attorney for Los Angeles County, DLG offers sexual abuse survivors unparalleled experience and proven results.

To speak with a California sexual abuse lawyer about filing a claim, contact a member of our team today at 818-322-4056. DLG’s dedicated attorneys have helped clients recover more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts.

When you’re ready to take the first step towards securing justice for a sexual abuse claim, we’re here to serve as your dedicated legal advocates.

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