May 30, 2024
The pushback came just a day after federal prison officials announced the closure of the facility.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons appears unwilling to allow a court-appointed special master to have broad oversight of its closure of the scandal-plagued FCI Dublin women’s prison, according to a recent court filing.

The agency’s challenge to the prison’s first-of-its-kind special master comes the same week the prisons bureau announced it would close the troubled women’s facility, which has been repeatedly rocked by allegations of a reputed “rape club” among its staff. Several corrections officers at the prison, including a warden, have been convicted of sexual assault in recent years, even as inmates have complained of continued retaliation for reporting more alleged abuses.

Specifically, the prisons bureau took aim at an order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers just hours after the pending closure became public Monday. Her order mandated the prison system intricately involve a special master Gonzalez Rogers ultimately picked in the decision-making process for transferring inmates out of the facility to other prisons or to different locations, such as halfway houses.

The judge’s order “is a de facto requirement” for the prisons bureau to keep the facility open — a prospect that’s becoming increasingly untenable, the bureau’s motion said. Many staff have refused to show up to work in the wake of the agency’s closure announcement, and complying with the special master’s demands only risks delaying medical care for inmates, according to the filing.

“The Court not only lacks jurisdiction to impose such a requirement, but it is also antithetical to the overall objective of safeguarding inmate safety and welfare,” attorneys wrote in the court documents.

The motion, which was filed Tuesday and first reported by KTVU, marks the latest salvo in an ongoing legal battle with increasingly little precedent, given that a special master has never previously been appointed to oversee a federal prison.

Gonzalez Rogers appointed the special master last month at the request of inmates’ attorneys, who argued that the prison’s leadership appeared unable to fix a pervasive culture of sexual abuse and retaliation among its staff despite leadership changes at the facility. At least five wardens have led the prison over the last three years and last month the FBI raided the facility. In March, Gonzalez Rogers called the jail “a dysfunctional mess,” citing a rare, daylong personal visit she made to get a first-hand look at conditions.

It all comes in the wake of a sprawling lawsuit filed in August accusing prison managers of ignoring decades of warning signs and providing insufficient mental and physical health care. The legal action recently received class-action status after more than 60 other lawsuits were filed against the Bureau of Prisons.

On Wednesday, Gonzalez Rogers issued an order offering “guidance relative to the closure of the facility and transfer of inmates,” though the details of those instructions, as well as the topics discussed during a private meeting held earlier Wednesday, were sealed. It was not immediately clear how many of the prisons bureau’s concerns were addressed in the latest order.

Oren Nimni, legal director for Rights Behind Bars, a nonprofit that joined several groups in suing the federal agency last year, declined to comment on the prison system’s motion. Calls to other attorneys representing the inmates were not immediately returned.