FCI Dublin prison closure raises questions of retaliation

A U.S. congressman from California is asking pointed questions a day after the Bureau of Prisons suddenly shut down a troubled all-women's prison in Dublin. 

"So why was this decision made?" U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) asked during an interview with KTVU on Tuesday. "And was it retaliation in some form or fashion?" 

That would be retaliation against the journalists, lawyers, women's solidarity groups and the federal judge who have all taken up the cause of exposing the sexual abuses inside FCI Dublin, DeSaulnier explained, where eight correctional officers, including the warden, have been charged with sex crimes. Seven have been convicted and sentenced to prison.

Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland ordered an unprecedented special master over the prison to ensure that reforms are made, and constitutional rights are upheld.

Eleven days after Gonzalez Rogers named Wendy Still as the special master, BOP Director Colette Peters announced FCI Dublin would close, because it was "not meeting expected standards and that the best course of action is to close the facility."

Gonzalez Rogers was not told of the closure and neither were the California Coalition for Women Prisoners lawyers who sued the BOP on behalf of the incarcerated women in a class-action civil lawsuit. 

The abrupt closure means the women must now leave the minimum-security women's prison in Alameda County and be sent to one of six other prisons, which do have court-ordered oversight. 

The only other minimum- and low-security federal women's prisons in the United States are located in West Virginia, Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, Florida and Minnesota.

A BOP source and several incarcerated and recently released women told KTVU they felt the closure was payback for the judge appointing a special master. 

DeSaulnier has thought about this, too. 

"So are they shopping judges?" he asked. "Are they trying to make sure their facilities are in jurisdictions where they might have a more sympathetic ear on the bench? They're arrogant, if you ask me." 

In an email, the BOP declined to comment – including about whether the agency intends to turn the Dublin facility into a men's prison – or respond to the allegations of retaliation. 

DeSaulnier, who acknowledged that he thinks the closure is ultimately a good thing because of the poor culture there, said he'd keep an eye on what's next by asking the Judiciary Committee and the Oversight Committee to have hearings and subpoena the BOP. 

DeSaulnier said he also cared about the 200 FCI Dublin employees who will have to look for work elsewhere, but who were promised they wouldn't lose their jobs. 

DeSaulnier said he is trying to figure out if these employees can "do laterals" by finding another federal job in the Bay Area if they don't want to move across the country. 

"If it's their choice, and they want to stay, then we can make that possible," DeSaulnier said. "And if they have to transfer, we make sure that they're protected and get the kind of support they deserve. Because, as I say, a lot of these people work courageously in very difficult environments." 

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) also told KTVU she was concerned about the employees finding new jobs and the overall understaffing of the federal prisons, in general. 

In her mind, FCI Dublin's closure is simply a step in the right direction.

"For this to be closed is extraordinary, but an extraordinarily important step forward because the sexual misconduct, the overall corrupt misconduct seems to be endemic in the prison," Chu said. 

Chu added that she believes that even though the special master will soon be out of a job at the shuttered-FCI Dublin, just having one appointed "sends a very strong signal to all the rest of the prisons that this type of sexual misconduct will not be tolerated, and that it cannot be conducted in any of the other federal facilities."

Meanwhile, the atmosphere on Tuesday at FCI Dublin was chaotic. 

Several women inside, as well as their family members, wrote and spoke with KTVU describing the confusion. 

One mother said there was "all kinds of craziness" at the prison, where the special master hung Gonzales Rogers' judicial order that said no one can be transferred without their paperwork being reviewed. 

But early Tuesday, women were given duffle bags and told to pack up in order to move out. 

That follows the uncertainty on Monday, when some buses carrying about 100 women left the facility about 6 a.m., a source said, but other buses were told to turn back and return to FCI Dublin after the judge issued her order. 

Attorney Kara Janssen said that she's been hearing from her clients that because the prison was slated to close, the women are not being allowed to buy snacks at the commissary, buy stamps, get paid at their jobs and they are being served leftover food.

"It's a mess," she said. 

Sharon McMillan emailed KTVU from inside FCI Dublin to say that on Monday US marshals and FBI agents were watching over the prison, but that the "normal Dublin officers" had returned by Tuesday. 

She was also one of many who remained confused about the judge's orders. 

"The order states that there will be no transfers, so which is it?" she asked. "I feel violated all over again. The BOP disregarded the judge. They don't want to fix anything, only get away with what has already been done and condone what still goes on." 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.

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