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A California federal judge plans to appoint a special master to oversee a federal women’s prison in the state due to widespread reports of abuse.

A federal judge in Oakland, California, ordered the appointment of a special master to oversee a troubled federal women’s prison, marking the first time the Federal Bureau of Prisons has faced such scrutiny. The prison, located approximately 21 miles east of Oakland, consists of a low-security facility and a nearby minimum-security satellite camp, housing over 600 inmates.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers characterized the prison as a “dysfunctional mess” in her ruling and emphasized the urgent need for change. While she did not name a specific individual for the role of special master, she indicated that the court would make the appointment promptly. Judge Rogers criticized the Bureau of Prisons for its sluggish response and disregard for the constitutional rights of inmates, despite being aware of the issues for years.

The court’s decision stems from a federal lawsuit filed by eight inmates and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners in August, alleging ongoing sexual abuse and exploitation within the prison, even after the prosecution of former staff members. The Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the appointment of the special master.

The scandal at FCI Dublin is just one of many challenges facing the Bureau of Prisons, including staffing shortages, suicides, and security breaches. Multiple employees have been charged with sexually abusing inmates since 2021, and numerous civil rights lawsuits are ongoing.

Judge Rogers conducted an unannounced visit to the prison in February, during which she spoke with inmates and staff. While some inmates claimed that sexual misconduct was not a concern, recent incidents presented in the lawsuit suggest otherwise. Although Judge Rogers did not find evidence of a pervasive sexualized environment, she concluded that the Bureau of Prisons had failed to adequately address allegations and manage the facility with integrity and trust.

The appointment of a special master follows an FBI search of the prison and the ousting of the current warden due to allegations of staff retaliation against inmates who spoke out against the prison. Despite efforts at reform, Judge Rogers noted the persistent belief within the prison system that incarcerated women are the problem, rather than the system itself.

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