WASHINGTON (AP) — As the Federal Bureau of Prisons faces heightened scrutiny over its latest scandal — allegations that staff and even a warden sexually abused inmates at a women’s prison known as the “Rape Club” — say people trying to support it To be held accountable for being attacked because he spoke up.
Whistleblower employees say senior prison officials harass them for exposing wrongdoing and threatening to shut down the women’s prison if workers continue to report abuse, and members of Congress say they are blocked from trying to better close the ailing office check.
The Bureau of Prisons’ penchant for silence and secrecy endured, workers and lawmakers say, even after an Associated Press investigation uncovered years of sexual misconduct at the women’s prison — the federal correctional facility in Dublin, California — and detailed a toxic culture that made it possible to continue it for years.
After that coverage, which included reports of inmates being sent to solitary confinement or being moved to other prisons to silence them, workers and union leaders at the Bay Area Jail and other federal prisons say they are also being threatened because they sounded the alarm for misconduct.
In Dublin, union leader Ed Canales said acting warden, Bureau of Prisons Deputy Regional Director T. Ray Hinkle, released Canales’ confidential emails and home address to staff after Canales complained to bureau managers about abuse, corruption and had complained about security issues.
At a federal jail in Mendota, California, union president Aaron McGlothin said agency officials retaliated by reopening a frivolous disciplinary investigation after he complained about busloads of COVID-19 positive inmates being transferred to his facility . The investigation, he said, stemmed from an erroneous complaint that he was absent from work when in fact he had been cleared to spend time on union business.
At the federal prison complex in Victorville, California, workers said an officer warned them to stay away from whistleblowers or risk being blocked with disciplinary investigations. Such threats are effective because even the disciplinary issue at the lowest level can prevent a worker’s advancement in the ranks, union officials said.
John Kostelnik, the Western Region vice president for the Prison Officers’ Union, said what is happening to whistleblowers in Dublin, Mendota and Victorville is endemic to a cover-up culture ingrained in the Bureau of Prisons’ leadership – which tends to to preserve what remains of the Bureau’s tarnished reputation than to sweep away an employee’s transgressions.
“We are responsible for keeping inmates behind the walls, but this agency has developed a concept for keeping everything behind the walls. And that’s not appropriate,” Kostelnik said in an interview.
Four men who worked in Dublin have been charged with sexually abusing inmates, including ex-ward Ray J. Garcia, who has pleaded not guilty. Several others are under investigation.
Federal law protects whistleblower employees from retaliation, but Kostelnik said such protections don’t really exist in the secluded prison authority, where wardens monitor staff discipline and those who speak up are essentially blacklisted. Bosses routinely ask would-be whistleblowers to write memos detailing problems, effectively forcing them to give their names and compromise anonymity, Kostelnik said.
Without an anonymous third-party reporting system like other law enforcement agencies have, federal prison whistleblowers “face a frontal attack when they report anything about wrongdoing at the facilities, especially when they report administrative officials,” Kostelnik said.
The AP contacted the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons with detailed questions about the allegations. The Bureau of Prisons responded with a one-sentence statement, saying it “takes allegations of misconduct by staff, including allegations of retaliation by staff, seriously and in accordance with our national policy these allegations must be reported, and where warranted, are.” Investigations required open.” Hinkle did not respond to a text message asking for comment.
The Bureau of Prisons has been plagued by crises in recent years, many of which have been uncovered by AP reports, including criminal activity by staffers, a critically low staffing level hampering emergency response, the rapid spread of COVID-19, a failed response to the pandemic and dozens of escapes.
Last week, after AP reported on Dublin, the Senate set up a bipartisan task force to examine conditions at the Bureau of Prisons, and on Wednesday the heads of the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland, urging him to take immediate action undertake reform of the Bureau.
The Bureau’s treatment of whistleblowers and its opposition to transparency, as documented by workers and lawmakers, has only led to closer scrutiny.
Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who visited Dublin last week after reading AP’s investigation, says she is taking a larger contingent of Congressmen to inspect the jail after Hinkle prevented her from speaking with inmates and to speak to employees personally.
“When I read the article, I was both amazed and disgusted,” Speier said in an interview. “I wanted to visit to see for myself what the circumstances were like. I would rate the visit as totally inadequate and unsatisfactory.”
Speier said she will not stop until the Bureau of Prisons faces significant oversight and will “go to the highest levels of the Justice Department and the White House if necessary to ensure we have the access we desire.”
During her visit, Speier said Hinkle tried to prevent her from speaking to several inmates who had reported abuse, and instead sent her to speak to others he had chosen. She said he disparagingly described employee sexual abuse as “embarrassing.”
Speier said she told him, “It’s not an embarrassment. This is a toxic work environment. It is a reprehensible set of circumstances.”
Afterwards, in an email to Dublin staff obtained by the AP, Hinkle alleged that Speier “abused” prison staff and one staff member “as if she had committed a crime.”
“I can only assume that the congresswoman was referring to a recent AP article that outlined our institution,” Hinkle wrote in the email. “While I recognize her right to believe what she believes, I do not recognize her right to ask all hard working FCI Dublin staff who choose to be law-abiding officers every day that they report for duty, categorize blindly.”
Hinkle said Speier surprised him and other officers by asking to speak to inmates privately — a claim the congresswoman denies — and said they prevented them from doing so because those conversations were “an active investigation or case.” could endanger”.
In another recent email to all staff, the Acting Warden raised the possibility of replacing or refurbishing Dublin Prison, citing infrastructure and security concerns.
But at a recent closed meeting, union leaders said officials had threatened to shut down Dublin if workers didn’t stop speaking out about wrongdoing.
“They were very clear that it is our coverage that will close it, that our actions are what will close it,” Kostelnik said.
He said prison officials used Dublin’s maintenance costs, which are among the highest of any federal prison, as a pretext for a possible closure. The facility, 21 miles east of Oakland, opened in 1974. It has about 760 inmates and more than 200 employees.
“Now they suddenly want to bring up the fact that it costs us so much money,” said Kostelnik. “But it was all about, ‘Well, if you guys keep this up,’ and basically saying, ‘We have a reason to shut it down because it’s costly, but because you guys are exposing that, we’re just going to shut it down.’ “