WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) sent a letter Friday to the new warden of FCI Dublin asking her why it appears incarcerated women are facing "significant barriers" in talking to their lawyers and demanding that this unconstitutional practice changes immediately.
The letter, obtained by KTVU, was sent to Warden Thahesha Jusino, who did not immediately respond for comment.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons said they are aware of the letter and "are reviewing it," but added the office doesn't comment on correspondence with Congress out of "deference to our members."
Swalwell reminded Jusino that people in the care of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons retain their rights to due process and counsel, even after sentencing.
However, Swalwell said his office has received "numerous" reports where legal calls and visits were subject to "unacceptable delays," which is "raising serious constitutional concerns."
For example, one attorney emailed FCI Dublin staff nine times to make one phone call. Often, it takes a month to secure one legal call or visits.
"Given the unfortunate history at FCI Dublin, exercising the constitutional right to counsel is especially urgent for survivors of sexual abuse," Swalwell wrote the warden. "Immediate action is needed to ensure that inmates receive timely access to legal services without unreasonable delay."
The letter was also signed by Reps. Karen Bass, Mark DeSaulnier and Judy Chu.
Swalwell sent the letter one day after Jusino's predecessor, Ray J. Garcia, was found guilty of sex crimes.
On Thursday, a jury convicted Garcia of groping, fondling and taking naked pictures of at least three incarcerated women from 2019 to 2021.
Garcia is one of five correctional officers at FCI to be charged with similar sex crimes. Three of the other officers have pleaded guilty.
Being able to contact an outside attorney is crucial, advocates point out.
The star witness, Melissa, who testified against Garcia was only able to share her story of sexual abuse to her lawyer, who then contacted the FBI. She did not want to report the abuses inside the prison, she testified, because the retaliation against her would be swift and severe.
In an interview, Faride Perez-Aucar, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Northern California, said it takes weeks to email back and forth with women at FCI Dublin and additional weeks to get a visit. Then, they're often canceled at the last minute, she said.
She said that lawyers with Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland and others who comprise the "Dublin Survivors Coalition," have also faced the same hurdles.
According to Perez-Aucar, this access to attorneys is no better under Jusino, who took over last year, than it was under Garcia.
"There's no difference," she said.
Garcia's trial has been very important to the women incarcerated at FCI Dublin in terms of holding him accountable, Perez-Aucar said.
"But it doesn't address the deep, systemic abuses in the prison system," she said, "in terms of lack of access to attorneys and getting mental health services."
Thahesha Jusino, the warden at FCI Dublin.
Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act regulations, incarcerated people must be able to report sexual abuse or harassment without influence from an entity with custody over them, Swalwell reminded Jusino.
That means, Swalwell wrote, that they must be able to contact their lawyer and to other advocates "without undue influence and free from interception from FCI Dublin staff."
Aside from access to lawyers, Swalwell also said that he is aware of "serious gaps" in mental and medical healthcare being provided to survivors of sexual assault inside the prison.
Swalwell noted that there is no access to outside confidential mental health services at FCI Dublin as Tri-Valley Haven, a local rape crisis center, declined to renew its contract due to the "extreme difficulties" in even accessing clients at the prison.
"The prison isn't allowing them to enter," Perez-Aucar said.
Swalwell noted that there have been failures with the past administration at FCI Dublin – namely Garcia's leadership.
And he said he expects Jusino will act differently and take "immediate steps" to remedy the issues he raised.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez
This story was reported in Oakland, Calif.