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California Federal Prison Warden Charged with Sexually Abusing Prisoner

The Federal Correctional Institution at Dublin, California, about 20 miles southwest of Oakland, has had its share of publicity since it opened in 1974. Publishing heir-turned-bankrobbing-militant Patty Hearst did time there, as did “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss, as well as actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin after pleading guilty to a college admissions bribery scandal.

On September 29, 2021, the prison was back in the news, after Warden Ray J. Garcia, 54, was charged with sexually abusing an unnamed prisoner at the facility.

According to a complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, Garcia groped and digitally penetrated the female prisoner, and when she pushed his hand away, he took her hand and put it on his genitals. The complaint also alleges a variety of other misbehaviors, including forcing female prisoners to strip and pose for nude photos he took of them, as well as showing them photos of his genitals.

Though some of this behavior might not rise to the level of a felony in other circumstances, the legal framework of the warden-prisoner relationship imposes serious consequences for Garcia—consequences of which he was apparently aware because he allegedly warned his victim that he was “close friends” with the person responsible for investigating official misconduct and therefore “could not be fired,” according to a press release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Giving the lie to that assertion, Garcia was placed on administrative leave in July 2021 while an investigation was completed, after which he was arrested. He is currently being held without bail on a charge of sexual abuse of a ward. He faces 15 years in prison if convicted.

This is not the first incidence of sexual impropriety alleged to have occurred at Dublin in recent years. In 2019, a female prisoner sued, alleging that a guard repeatedly sexually assaulted her. Though prison officials deny these charges, they admit that in 2020 guard Ross Klinger sexually abused two prisoners over a period of several months. Charges have been filed in that case as well.

The scandals are just the latest problems to dog the beleaguered Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which has long been plagued by mismanagement, incompetence, and abuse. Chronic staff shortages have made it nearly impossible to address systemic difficulties or respond to new crises. These problems were highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic as BOP struggled with high infection rates and deaths among staff and prisoners alike.

Just as BOP has thus far failed to put forth any policy initiative designed to address these system-wide problems, it has not yet announced any effort aimed at ensuring that more prisoners at Dublin do not suffer sexual abuse. 

Sources: U.S. Department of Justice, ABC News, Los Angeles Times

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