Feds close prison dubbed the ‘Rape Club,’ but accountability is needed

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The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced they were closing FCI Dublin, dubbed the “Rape Club” by inmates due its sordid history of staff members raping women prisoners. The closure comes after years of the BOP ignoring complaints and protecting officers from prosecution.

The Associated Press conducted a thorough investigation and “found 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 reported that approximately “a dozen Dublin employees were removed for sexually abusing inmates.” One employee videotaped himself having sex with inmates and “stored those tapes in a prison locker.” None of the employees were arrested.

Finally, the Justice Department’s inspector general and the FBI learned about an inmate’s suit against the Dublin staff who assaulted her. They undertook a criminal investigation, and brought criminal charges against eight prison staff, including the warden and chaplain. Seven were convicted and one case is still pending.

Dublin is not alone in its climate of guards raping inmates. At FCC Coleman in Florida, 15 female inmates filed complaints of sexual assault against at least six correctional officers in 2019. The BOP interviewed the officers under oath, and all of them admitted to engaging in sexual misconduct with inmates.

That sounds great. However, it was a sly way to protect the guards from being prosecuted. Under a Supreme Court ruling, statements made under oath by a government employee cannot be used in criminal prosecution if their government employer forced or “compelled” the employee to answer questions. So, by putting the guards under oath, the BOP protected the officers. Several of them have since retired with full pensions.

The staff at FCC Coleman used another underhanded tactic to keep the lid on sexual assaults on women prisoners. Two days before a scheduled audit required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), prison officials transferred all female prisoners to other prisons. When the PREA auditors showed up, there were no women inmates for them to interview.

In 2022, the Senate held a hearing on the prevalence of sexual abuse in federal prison. Their report found that female inmates in two-thirds of federal prisons were sexually abused by BOP employees, including senior officials, that the BOP failed in their duty to take steps to detect, prevent and respond to sexual abuse of female prisoners; and, the BOP did not hold employees accountable for their misconduct

It is clear the Bureau of Prisons works hard to prevent outsiders from seeing what happens inside their prisons. So, rather than deal directly with the despicable staff at Dublin, the BOP decided to sidestep the problem by closing the prison. That doesn’t hold anyone accountable and just spreads the problem to other prisons. It seems odd that a bureaucracy known for being slow to act, the BOP suddenly decided to close FCI Dublin. The BOP announced the closure just ten days after a federal judge took the unprecedented step of appointing a special master to oversee the prison. The timing makes it clear that the BOP intended to avoid outside oversight of their operations.

A former inmate told a reporter that the abrupt closure “just feels wrong. We’ve worked so hard to get a special master in there to clean house…and pretty much the minute after that happened, they say they’re just going to close it down.” She said that it would be inhumane to transfer hundreds of inmates to prisons across the country, away from their families.

Given the BOP’s record of going to extremes to bury all claims that staff members have sexually assaulted inmates, could the BOP intend to make it difficult for the inmate victims to continue their lawsuits by closing the prison and shipping the inmates to prisons across the U.S.?

When prisoners are transferred to other prisons, their legal papers get shipped separately. Often, their papers are “lost” in transit. Even if they arrive at the new prison the institution may withhold them from the inmate for weeks or even months. During that period, the inmates are unable to assist their attorneys in pursuing their claims.

Dispersing the complaining inmates adds an additional impediment for the efforts to hold the BOP accountable for staff assaults — it will make it more difficult and much more expensive for the inmates’ attorneys to fly around the country to interview accused staff members as well as gather testimony from other inmate witnesses to the rapes. The closure of FCC Dublin is just one more devious attempt by the BOP to make it harder for the inmates to get justice for the assaults they endured.

The Bureau of Prisons just can’t be trusted to police itself. Congress is finally moving to impose outside oversight on the runaway agency. The Federal Prison Oversight Act (H.R. 3019) recently passed the Oversight Committee 41-1 and is expected to reach the House floor for a vote by the end of June. Up until now the BOP has been able “grade its own papers.” Congress needs to end the cover-ups and pass H.R. 3019 ASAP.

Pat Nolan is the Director Emeritus of the Nolan Center for Justice at ACU/CPAC. He helped draft and pass the Prison Rape Elimination Act and served as one of seven Commissioners on the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.

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