Federal Prisons

The Feds Will Close a Notorious California Prison Where Guards Abused Women with Impunity

In 2021, the Associated Press uncovered rampant sexual abuse at FCI Dublin. After three years of failing to fix the problem, the Bureau of Prisons is shutting it down.


The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) announced Monday that it will close a federal women's prison in California where sexual abuse was so common that it was known as the "rape club."

The Associated Press first reported that the BOP is closing Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin, a low-security women's prison in California's Bay Area, after several years of failed efforts to root out systemic misconduct and abuse.

The closure comes as the BOP tries to address larger, system-wide problems. The agency has been in crisis mode since before the COVID-19 pandemic, dogged by embarrassing security lapses, high-profile deaths, chronic understaffing, and persistent corruption. One result of all this is that zero-tolerance policies for sexual assault and federal laws that ban any sexual contact between staff and inmates go unenforced, and in many cases where an incarcerated person tries to invoke them, it only subjects them to retaliation.

BOP Director Colette Peters said in a statement provided to Reason that the agency has "taken unprecedented steps and provided a tremendous amount of resources to address culture, recruitment and retention, aging infrastructure and—most critical—employee misconduct."

"Despite these steps and resources, we have determined that FCI Dublin is not meeting expected standards and that the best course of action is to close the facility," Peters continued.

A 2021 Associated Press investigation revealed "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." Eight Dublin employees, including a former warden, have since been convicted or pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting incarcerated women under their control. 

Eight inmates at FCI Dublin filed a lawsuit last year alleging that despite the prosecutions, the culture of abuse and whistleblower retaliation continued.

Last month, the BOP removed the fourth warden to be put in charge of FCI Dublin since 2021, after allegations that the warden retaliated against an inmate who testified in a lawsuit against the prison. 

Shortly after the warden's departure, the federal judge overseeing the Dublin inmates' lawsuit announced she was appointing a special master to oversee operations at the prison, writing in her order that the BOP "has proceeded sluggishly with intentional disregard of the inmates' constitutional rights despite being fully apprised of the situation for years."

"The repeated installation of BOP leadership who fail to grasp and address the situation strains credulity," U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of California Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote.

And there is also a long-running FBI investigation into Dublin staff and leadership.

It seems the BOP decided that Dublin wasn't worth the trouble anymore. However, this is not the first time the BOP has resorted to shuttering a scandal-ridden prison.

In 2021, the BOP closed down a minimum-security women's camp at FCC Coleman, a federal correctional complex in Florida. A Reason investigation detailed how a cadre of Coleman guards abused incarcerated women at Coleman with impunity for years, and how those guards were allowed to retire and escape prosecution, despite giving sworn statements to investigators admitting to assaulting inmates.

Peters, the former director of Oregon's prison system, had a reputation as a reformer when President Biden appointed her in 2022, but she inherited a sprawling federal agency with an entrenched culture. The repeated attempts to find a warden who could clean up Dublin failed not because the prison was an extreme outlier, but because it was so average.

The women currently incarcerated at Dublin will be transferred to other federal prisons, and Peters said in her statement that no BOP employees would lose their jobs as a result of the closure.