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CA Federal Judge Likely to Appoint Special Master For Women’s Prison

A federal judge on Tuesday indicated she was likely to appoint a special master to investigate claims of rampant misconduct and sexual abuse at a San Francisco Bay Area prison facility, after paying a surprise visit to the prison that raised concerns about retaliation for speaking out. In a hearing before U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners made its case for a court-appointed special master to implement reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Dublin facility, Courthouse News reports. The low-security facility houses 712 women, transgender, and nonbinary people. In their August 2023 lawsuit, the plaintiffs described endured abuse and exploitation by facility staff, including sexual assault, coercion, voyeurism, drugging, and abuse during medical exams. They say that, despite being aware of violence and harassment at Dublin for decades, the Prison Bureau has failed to take action.


Attorney Oren Nimni reminded the judge of testimony from prisoners who said at a January evidentiary hearing that they didn't report misconduct because they didn't know how, or had seen retaliation take place. This put the plaintiffs at risk of bodily harm, including what they called increased invasive surveillance after joining the class action, including higher rates of strip searches and staff watching prisoners during bathroom breaks. Nimni argued that without a special master, the plaintiffs won’t be able to litigate the case, filed on behalf of several incarcerated women, because they're under the surveillance of government employees who might retaliate against them for participating. Assistant U.S. Attorney Madison Mattioli said the Bureau of Prisons provided evidence of “effective reporting systems,” and that internally “allegations of retaliation are taken seriously.” The judge disagreed with the government’s statement that misconduct reporting systems are in place to avoid retaliation against prisoners, “There’s evidence in the record of conduct that could be construed as retaliation. No one’s communicating because they’re afraid they’re going to be retaliated against. You have a problem out there.”

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