Whistleblower Retaliation and Cover-Ups at the Bureau of Prisons

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A February 6 Associated Press investigation uncovered horrific violence against women at a federal correctional institution in Dublin, California. AP News obtained federal Bureau of Prisons documents and court records, and conducted interviews with “current and former prison employees and inmates.” The investigation uncovered “a permissive and toxic culture… enabling years of sexual misconduct by predatory employees and cover-ups that have largely kept the abuse out of the public eye.” In a follow-up article published on February 24, whistleblowers who work for the Bureau of Prisons allege that they are being retaliated against for shedding light on abuses at Dublin.

The Investigation

The investigation contains harrowing stories of inmates at the female-only Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Dublin, which houses 783 individuals as of the time of this article’s publishing. According to the AP, the facility “was converted in 2012 to one of six women-only facilities in the federal prison system.” Allegations of wrongdoing at Dublin have already “resulted in four arrests,” and the AP points to this as “endemic of a larger problem within the beleaguered Bureau of Prisons.”

“Inmates and prison workers who spoke to the AP did not want their names published for fear of retaliation,” the investigation notes. “Women made the first internal complaints to staff members about five years ago, court records and internal agency documents show, but it’s not clear whether those complaints ever went anywhere. The women say they were largely ignored, and the abuse continued.”

The article contains horrific stories of women’s allegations being completely ignored: in one instance, a woman alleged “that a maintenance foreman repeatedly raped her and that other workers facilitated the abuse and mocked her for it. When an internal prison investigator finally caught wind of what was happening, the woman said she was the one who got punished with three months in solitary confinement and a transfer to a federal prison in Alabama.”

The AP News article also details the four former employees at FCI Dublin who are facing lawsuits, including former warden Ray J. Garcia, who was accused of “molesting an inmate as she tried to push him away,” as well as making “her and another inmate strip naked as he did rounds and took pictures that were found on his personal laptop and government-issued cell phone,” according to prosecutors.

Whistleblowers and Fear of Retaliation

In a subsequent article, the AP reported that employees and union leaders at Dublin “and other federal prisons say they’re also being threatened for raising alarms about misconduct.” Ed Canales, a union president at Dublin, “says the acting warden, Bureau of Prisons Deputy Regional Director T. Ray Hinkle, “shared Canales’ confidential emails and home address with the staff after Canales complained to bureau leaders about abuse, corruption and safety issues.” Aaron McGlothin, a union president at a federal prison in Mendota, California, says that he experienced retaliation at the hands of agency officials in the form of a “frivolous disciplinary investigation after he complained about busloads of COVID-19-positive inmates being transferred to his institution.”

Workers at another federal prison complex in Victorville, California, say that “one official has warned them to stay away from whistleblowers or risk being jammed up with disciplinary investigations.” Union officials say that these threats work because any disciplinary matter can affect an employee’s ability to move up in the job.

“John Kostelnik, the Western region vice president for the correctional workers union, said what’s happening to whistleblowers at Dublin, Mendota and Victorville is endemic of a coverup culture deeply ingrained in Bureau of Prisons leadership — aimed more at preserving what’s left of the bureau’s tattered reputation than sweeping away any employee’s transgressions,” the article states. Kostelnik told the AP that federal whistleblower retaliation protection laws “don’t really exist in the cloistered Bureau of Prisons, where wardens control staff discipline and people who speak up are essentially blacklisted.” He said that “[b]osses routinely ask would-be whistleblowers to write memos detailing problems, effectively forcing them to put down their name and compromise anonymity.”

Kostelnik said in the article that whistleblowers in federal prisons “face a full-frontal attack when you report anything of wrongdoing in the facilities, especially if you’re reporting management officials.”

The Bureau of Prisons responded to the AP with a statement expressing that the agency “takes seriously allegations of staff misconduct, including allegations of retaliation by staff, and consistent with our national policy, those allegations are required to be reported, and when warranted, investigations are opened.”

Congressional Reactions and Fallout

After the AP investigation broke, the U.S. Senate launched a bipartisan working group “to scrutinize conditions within the Bureau of Prisons.” The group is led by Senators Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) and “is aimed at developing policies and proposals to strengthen oversight of the beleaguered federal prison system and improve communication between the Bureau of Prisons and Congress.”

On February 23, leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco urging the Department of Justice DOJ “to turn over a slew of information about employee misconduct and procedures in place to stem sexual abuse.” Committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA) all signed onto the letter.

Sen. Jackie Speier visited FCI Durbin after reading the AP investigation but was unable to speak to inmates who had reported abuses. Instead, Speier says that Hinkle “sent her to speak with others he’d picked. She said he dismissively called sexual abuse committed by employees ‘an embarrassment.’” Speier expressed dissatisfaction with the visit and said she will “go to the highest levels of the Justice Department and the White House if necessary, to make sure we have the access we want.”

The AP obtained an email Hinkle sent to Dublin staff members that “alleged Speier ‘mistreated’ prison workers and treated one employee ‘as though she had committed a crime.’”

Union leaders told the AP that “officials threatened to shut down Dublin if workers didn’t stop speaking up about misconduct.” Kostelnik said, “They were very clear that us reporting is what’s going to close it down, that our actions are what’s going to close it down.”

Read “AP investigation: Women’s prison fostered culture of abuse.”

Read “Whistleblowers say they’re bullied for exposing prison abuse.”

Read more government whistleblower news on WNN.

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