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Congress turns attention to Dublin prison abuse allegations

Eight members of Congress are demanding an investigation into allegations of abuse and misconduct at an all-women federal prison in Dublin, the leaders said this week.

The leaders including Reps. Eric Swalwell, D-Castro Valley; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles; Lois Frankel, D-Florida; Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan; Veronica Escobar, D-Texas; Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas; and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, have asked for an inspection of Federal Correctional Institution Dublin and access to a 2021 audit of it.

The leaders sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz and a separate letter to Michael Carvajal, the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, detailing what they want the investigation to include and what they want related to the audit.

The leaders said in a statement:

“We were first made aware of the systemic issues plaguing FCI Dublin through the detailed articles and investigations completed by several reputable news sources earlier this month.” 

The leaders added:

“These writings detailed how the all-women inmate population at FCI Dublin has allegedly been subjected to rampant sexual harassment and abuse at the hands of predatory male employees like former Warden Ray Garcia, former Chaplain James Theodore Highhouse, Prison Safety Administrator John Bellhouse, and recycling technician Ross Klinger.” 

Garcia, who was 54 years old and a resident of Merced, was charged with sexual abuse of an incarcerated woman at FCI Dublin when he was the associate warden. The complaint against Garcia was filed Sept. 24 of last year.

Former Chaplain with the Federal Bureau of Prisons James Theodore Highhouse pleaded guilty Feb. 23 in federal court in Northern California to five felonies for abusing an FCI Dublin inmate sexually and then lying to federal agents.

Bureau of Prisons Correctional Officer Ross Klinger was arrested June 30 of last year on suspicion of abusing an FCI Dublin inmate sexually.

The leaders said:

“[M]edia reports uncovered that inmates at the facility had made the first internal complaints to staff members about five years ago, but they were largely ignored.” 

The members of Congress said:

“This is unacceptable considering PREA (Prison Rape Elimination Act) Standard 51(b) requires agencies to ‘provide at least one way for inmates to report abuse or harassment to a public or private entity or office that is not part of the agency, and that it is able to receive and immediately forward inmate reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment to agency officials, allowing the inmate to remain anonymous upon request.'” 

The letter to Horowitz asks the Department of Justice to investigate FCI Dublin’s compliance with PREA, flawed procedures for reporting and investigating complaints and retaliation, and among other things, possible retaliation against staff and inmates for assisting with an investigation or filing a complaint.

The letter to Carvajal says the audit must aggregate data gathered from PREA-qualifying events, explain what measures were taken to investigate and respond to the data gathered, and among other things, be published for the public on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website for review and comment.

Horowitz’s office declined to comment on the letter he received from the members of Congress.

Spokesman Scott Taylor of the Federal Bureau of Prisons only said they are reviewing the letter.

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