Bay Area Federal Prison Violations Key to DOJ Considering Early Release of Sexually Abused Women in Federal Facilities

Photo by Larry Farr on Unsplash

By The Vanguard Staff

WASHINGTON, DCThe U.S. Dept. of Justice is considering giving women abused in federal prison early releases, according to a New York Times story Wednesday—the federal prison in Dublin, CA was apparently key to revelations that led to the decision.

The NYT said the “epidemic of sexual assaults against female prisoners in federal custody – including a key Senate Committee’s disclosures this week has led to the revelations that women are being sexually abused by guards, wardens and even chaplains, and that the abuses are being covered up by investigators.

The NYT said DOJ is pressing “top officials at the Bureau of Prisons, a division of the department, to encourage inmates who have been assaulted by prison employees, and might qualify for the department’s underused compassionate release program, to apply.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee released the results of a bipartisan investigation Tuesday, painting “the starkest picture to date of a crisis that the Justice Department has identified as a top policy priority,” said the Times.

Investigators identified three other prisons where abusers targeted female inmates with relative impunity, including the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan and the Metropolitan Detention Center Brooklyn—as well as the Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, near Oakland, Calif.

The NYT reported a former warden at Dublin, Ray Garcia, was found guilty of seven charges of sexual abuse this month after molesting female inmates and forcing them to pose for nude photographsAs of May, 17 current or former employees at Dublin, including the former pastor, were under investigation for sexual abuse.

“I was sentenced and put in prison for choices I made — I was not sent to prison to be raped and abused,” said Briane Moore, who charges she was repeatedly assaulted by an official at a women’s prison in West Virginia.

Other women collaborated similar treatment in committee testimony, said the NYT, and accompanied the release of the report, which was based on interviews with dozens of whistleblowers, current and former prison officials, and survivors of sexual abuse,” said the Times.

Findings in the report included that federal prison employees abused female prisoners in at least 19 of the 29 federal facilities over the past decade; in at least four prisons, managers failed to apply the federal law intended to detect and reduce sexual assault; and hundreds of sexual abuse charges are among a backlog of 8,000 internal affairs misconduct cases yet to be investigated.

A committee analysis of court filings and prison records over the past decade, reported the Times, found male and female inmates had made 5,415 allegations of sexual abuse against prison employees, of which 586 were later substantiated by investigators.

“Our findings are deeply disturbing and demonstrate, in my view, that the B.O.P. is failing systemically to prevent, detect and address sexual abuse of prisoners by its own employees,” said Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA)subcommittee chair.

Lauren Reynolds, who was at Federal Correctional Complex Coleman in Central Florida in the last year of her 12-year sentence, said it was the warehouse manager at the facility who targeted her.

The Times reported that she said she later found out at least 10 other women had been abused by officers and workers at the facility. “There’s a lack of accountability, a secrecy, if nobody gets out there and talks about it,” said  Reynolds.

The NYT story said the “committee’s report sharply criticized the Justice Department’s leaders for failing to bring charges against many of those accused of abusing inmates at the now-shuttered women’s unit at Coleman” (and) “the department’s Office of the Inspector General, assigned to review such allegations (declined) to investigate six male officers at Coleman accused of abuse.

All six officers “already had admitted to sexually abusing female prisoners under their supervision,” the report said. “None of these six officers was ever prosecuted.”

Michael E. Horowitz, the inspector general, said, as written in the NYT story, “he was committed to streamlining and strengthening investigations, in line with the recommendations of a working group convened by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to address the problem.

The Times noted that, under federal law, any sexual contact between a prison employee and a prisoner is illegal, even if it would be considered consensual outside the system.

And, added the Times, guards at Coleman, when confronted with evidence that they had sex with female inmates, admitted that they were worried about being charged with a crime in affidavits made public by the subcommittee on Tuesday.

Taxpayers, in a settlement in May 2021, paid 15 women who had served at Coleman at least $1.25 million to settle a case cited extensively in the report, including Reynolds, who noted, “If you sweep it under the rug,” she said, “nothing will change.”

The NYT said prisoners’ rights groups have complained that Bureau of Prisons officials have beenreluctant to grant compassionate discharges, even when inmates can provide evidence of a terminal illness or of abuse at the hands of an official entrusted with their welfare.

In September, the Times reports, in a letter to the prisoners’ rights group Families Against Mandatory Minimums, government officials ordered the bureau’s new director, Colette S. Peters, to “review whether B.O.P.’s policy regarding compassionate release should be modified” to accommodate female prisoners assaulted by federal employees, said the Times.

Reportedly, Peters said she has begun to consider requests from inmates who have been abused and are not deemed to be threats to the community if they are granted their release.

The NYT said criminal justice reform groups don’t trust the BOP, and have asked the U.S. Sentencing Commission to allow inmates the ability to directly request a compassionate release ruling from trial judges.

“The B.O.P. failed to recognize female prisoners being sexually assaulted and elderly prisoners being threatened by a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic as reasons to even consider a sentence reduction,” said Kevin Ring, the president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums. “In our view, they’ve forfeited the right to have a monopoly over compassionate release.” 

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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