FCI Dublin closure: Women leave prison despite lawyer's attempt to halt transfers

Lawyers representing a class of women incarcerated at the soon-to-close FCI Dublin prison filed an emergency temporary restraining order Friday, urging a judge to temporarily block the transfer of anyone who is left at the troubled women's prison. 

However, their 72-page motion might be moot: Dozens of incarcerated women and their loved ones told KTVU that most, if not all, of the women have already been hastily shipped out of the prison. One mother said her daughter's bus left for Nevada at 2 a.m. 

Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers has not yet ruled on the request filed by the lawyers from the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, who said that the Bureau of Prison's sudden decision Monday to shut down FCI Dublin has "wrought chaos" for the 605 incarcerated women, many of whom are not medically able to be transferred across the country. 

Other women, they argued, are so traumatized by the move that they are at risk of grave psychological distress and even suicide.

Their motion alleges that the transfers of some women, which have been occurring throughout the week, have been haphazard, flouted federal law, and are simply a tactic to avoid oversight by a special master, which the judge had mandated over the prison in March. 

The motion also questions whether the six other minimum-and low-level women's prisons across the country can even accommodate the influx of new transfers.  

"While the Court may not prevent BOP from closing a prison in due course, it has the authority, jurisdiction and duty to ensure that the process is carried out in compliance with relevant federal laws and in accordance with constitutional standards," the motion reads. 

The restraining order asks that the judge should "immediately intervene" to temporarily halt any further transfers out of Dublin until she and Special Master Wendy Still "can ensure that the transfer process" of the remaining women is carried out in a "constitutionally compliant manner."

Attorney Susan Beaty said she has received many "frantic reports" from dozens of women about the "chaos unfolding" at the prison over the last four days, including putting people on a bus, shackled, with limited access to food, water and toilets. 

One woman was strip-searched and forced to remove her tampon in front of two officers, as she awaited transfer elsewhere. She sat on the bus, bleeding for hours before being returned to her dorm, where she did not have access to clean underwear or menstrual products for four days. 

Other women, who might be eligible for compassionate release, are being transferred to other prisons, the motion alleges. 

"This case raises serious questions about miscalculations and misclassifications for the hundreds of other class members who have not received the same scrutiny," Beaty wrote, "and who BOP seeks to hastily transfer without proper consideration." 

An activist from the Dublin Prison Solidarity Coalition urges the BOP to release women from custody. April 19, 2024 

KTVU has heard similar reports, too.

One woman said officers were screaming at them to "pack up their shit," another mother told KTVU that her daughter is recovering from emergency surgery and is not well enough to be transferred. 

Another mother said by Friday morning, that almost everyone had been taken to a holding facility in Pahrump, Nev., in handcuffs and belly chains, which caused her daughter to bruise. 

"My daughter said that they wanted to empty out that place by today and they didn't care where they sent them or how it was done," the mother told KTVU on Friday. 

Meanwhile, a small group of activists from the Dublin Solidarity Prison Coalition rallied in front of FCI Dublin, demanding the women be released from custody altogether. 

"The children and the husbands of these women are going to be suffering immensely," Alissa Moore, with Legal Services for Prisones with Children, said. "Because there's only one other federal correctional facility in the state, and it's not large enough to house all these women."

On Monday, BOP Director Colette Peters told KTVU that the prison had to be closed because it was "not meeting expected standards and the best course of action is to close the facility."

As of April 2024, seven FCI Dublin correctional officers have been sentenced for sex crimes and the eighth officer seems to be heading to trial. 

FCI Dublin has been rocked by sex scandals over the last several years. 

Eight correctional officers have been charged with sex crimes; seven so far have been sentenced to prison themselves. More than 60 civil sex abuse lawsuits have been filed against the BOP and individual officers. 

Edward Canales, the union president of the correctional officers at FCI Dublin, spoke to KTVU outside the rally Friday.

He said he and his officers also oppose the prison shutting down. 

The BOP promised none of the 203 employees would lose their jobs, but obviously, with no prison, staff will have to move across the country and find new work. 

"My officers are not the abusers," Canales said. "They are the officers that maintained safety and security and prevented abuse."

Canales emphasized that any officer who has been indicted is no longer in the union. 

"FCI Dublin should not close, it was being rehabilitated with the world watching," Canales said. "We fixed many issues and were continuing to make FCI Dublin a model prison."

Canales also would not answer just how many women have transferred away as of Friday morning. 

FCI Dublin President of Local 3584 Ed Canales said he doesn't want the prison to shut down. April 19, 2024.

KTVU has been collecting anecdotal stories of women who have already been shackled on buses and taken across the United States to other women's prisons, none of which are on the West Coast. 

One father said maybe 100 women were left early Friday morning. Another mother said "everyone is gone." 

At the same time, KTVU is also aware of a handful of other women who have been freed during this transfer process – to halfway houses or their family's homes, as a judge-appointed special master has been reviewing paperwork to make sure they get to the right place. 

Women with a short amount of time left on their sentences have been let go early, attorneys said.  

For example, Lisa Boyers told KTVU that her niece was released and should be coming home to Santa Cruz. 

But the temporary restraining order also cites examples where women's cases aren't being properly tracked. 

One woman, the motion states, said her counselor showed her an empty folder and told her that there was no documentation of her programming or certificates even though she had completed numerous classes over the years. Those certificates help women get out of prison early. 

Dozens of family members and women inside FCI Dublin have contacted KTVU this week, worried about what their fates will be.

"We aren't doing very well in here," Ashley Nicole Leyba wrote from inside FCI Dublin. "I was stripped of all my possessions and I had 20 minutes to be ready to be transferred."

She said she was strip-searched, put in "transport clothes" and loaded onto a bus on Monday, until she was returned to the facility, where her unit is now devoid of any toothpaste, underwear or personal products. The rest of her belongings had been stolen. And now, two days later, she said she is being screamed at by the officers to pack up again.

"This experience is so traumatizing, it's making us all sick," she wrote.

Paul Knudsen said his daughter was shipped out Wednesday before noon.

"They were not allowed to take their belongings or that many belongings with them, like one pair of pants, and just so many shirts, etc." he said.  "They were not allowed to get their belongings that they had to leave behind."

Knudsen said he didn't know where his daughter was being sent.

Matthew Ellison also told KTVU that his wife was transferred as well. Where? He didn't know.

"She was told she had 15 minutes to pack," he said.

Linda Expose said this sudden closure has left some of her friends "stranded and confused. They are being shuffled onto buses without any idea of what is happening to them."

An officer at FCI Dublin wheels empty trash bins as women were told to throw out much of their personal belongings ahead of the prison's shutdown. April 19, 2024 

SkyFox flew over FCI Dublin where women have been told to throw out much of their personal belongings ahead of the prison's shutdown. April 19, 2024 

SkyFox flew over FCI Dublin where women have been told to throw out much of their personal belongings ahead of the prison's shutdown. April 19, 2024 

The Dublin Prison Solidarity Coalition protested near FCI Dublin ahead of its closure. April 19, 2024

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at lisa.fernandez@fox.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez