Advocates push for release of women’s prison abuse victims

A national criminal justice advocacy group is pushing the Justice Department to support the release of women who were sexually abused by staff at a federal women’s prison in California.

The group, FAMM, also known as Families Against Mandatory Minimums, sent a letter Tuesday to Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco pushing for the Justice Department to file motions for compassionate release for those who have been victimized at the prison. It follows reporting from The Associated Press that revealed a toxic culture that enabled sexual abuse of inmates to continue for years at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, a women-only facility called the “rape club” by many who know it.

The letter is the latest effort by advocacy groups and members of Congress to ratchet down oversight of the beleaguered federal prison system and push for action at the top levels of the Justice Department. Monaco and other Justice Department officials have been prioritizing reforming the Bureau of Prisons and put in a new warden at Dublin. The former warden was arrested and accused of sexually abusing inmates and forcing them to pose nude him so he could snap photos on his government-issued cell phone.

The group now wants Monaco to order the Bureau of Prisons and U.S. attorney’s offices to support motions for compassionate release for any victims, which could lead to their release from the prison.

“None of these women was sentenced to sexual violence and torture,” FAMM President Kevin Ring said in a statement. “Yet we now know they were trapped with their abusers, with no ability to protect themselves or flee, making their incarceration an exceptionally degrading and terrifying experience.”

The prison’s former warden, Ray J. Garcia, is one of five Dublin employees who have been charged since last June with sexually abusing inmates. Garcia is accused of molesting an inmate on multiple occasions from December 2019 to March 2020 and forcing her and another inmate to strip naked so he could take pictures while he made rounds. Investigators said they found the images on his government-issued cellphone. His lawyer has refused interview requests from the AP.

Since March, nine other workers have been placed on administrative leave by the Bureau of Prisons.

“After failing to protect them, the very least BOP can do now is let these women leave and begin to heal,” Ring said.

The AP’s reporting on the federal prison system has revealed layer after layer of abuse, neglect and leadership missteps — including rampant sexual abuse by workers, severe staffing shortages, inmate escapes and the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic — leading directly to the agency’s director announcing his resignation earlier this year.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter. Monaco has said she is committed to holding Bureau of Prisons staff accountable, including by bringing criminal charges.

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