The violence of prison culture has long been celebrated in pop culture. Television, film, and music glorify acts of rape, murder, and assault in the name of entertainment. But there is nothing “entertaining” about real acts of violence perpetrated against real people.
An Associated Press investigation into the federal correctional institution in Dublin, California revealed shocking stories told by the prisoners about the prison’s staff and even its warden, also uncovering hundreds of allegations against the prison’s employees. The investigation cast a light on the prison’s toxic and inhumane culture dubbed “The Rape Club.”
What is happening at the federal prison in Dublin, California? In their investigation, NBC reports, “the AP obtained internal federal Bureau of Prisons documents, statements and recordings from inmates, interviewed current and former prison employees and inmates and reviewed thousands of pages of court records from criminal and civil cases involving Dublin prison staff.”
This collection of evidence reveals that a mountain of allegations against the mostly male staff was mostly ignored or put aside, how prisoners who came forward with their reports of abuse were punished with solitary confinement, and how the very officials in charge of making sure the prisoners are not sexually mistreated or assaulted – and should have been investigating allegations – had reports of sexual assault against them by those they were meant to be protecting.
The warden, Ray J. Garcia, was officially charged with sexually abusing an inmate when he allegedly groped a female prisoner as she tried to push him away. There are also accusations against him for abusing his power to intimidate prisoners, and the FBI discovered naked pictures of the prisoners on his personal laptop and government-issued cell phone after confiscating his electronics. While working at the prison, Garcia was in charge of leading others in how to comply with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act, known as PREA.
What is the Prison Rape Elimination Act?
The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 was designed to “eradicate prisoner rape in all types of correctional facilities in this country,” regardless of whether they are state or federally-run facilities. PREA protects inmates and detainees in:
- Adult prisons and jails
- Juvenile facilities
- Community corrections facilities
- Law enforcement lockups and other temporary holding facilities
- Tribal detention facilities
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers
Can federal prisoners sue their guards for sexual assault?
Yes, they can – but it is a challenging process. In 1996, the Prison Litigation Reform Act made it impossible for inmates to sue in federal court unless they first exhausted all possible administrative remedies, meaning they had to file a separate, official grievance with the prison against every single attacker. For the victims of abuse in Dublin, such a step would have been impossible; after all, their own warden was sexually abusing them. Could you imagine how well that process would go? But unless they filed those grievances, they would be barred from filing a lawsuit.
Second, all lawsuits must be filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), which has strict rules and time frames for claims. You have to file a specific form (Standard Form 95) within two years of the date you were injured, but remember – you can only do this after you have filed an official grievance. So while a two-year statute of limitations is not uncommon for civil claims, most prisoners will already be behind because they have to exhaust all administrative remedies first.
The final hurdle is qualified immunity – i.e., the doctrine that allows federal employees to avoid being sued. Qualified immunity is not supposed to apply in a case where there has been a clear violation of statutory or constitutional rights, but as we all know, this particular doctrine is at the heart of many, many civil rights violations that go unpunished.
In short, it is incredibly difficult but not impossible to sue a federal prison guard for sexual assault, or to file a lawsuit for negligence on behalf of the prison administration for failing to protect their inmates from assault.
What can you do when you have been sexually assaulted?
Sexual assault is an isolating experience. The crime committed against you is a heinous one and you are at no fault at all for what happened. Remember that, while it may not feel like it, you are not alone. There are important steps you can take that will help you during this difficult time:
- Seek medical help. Ensure your health is safeguarded and document the attack. Many medical centers have nursing staff trained in sexual trauma and evidence collection. You may not be in the best frame of mind to make a decision as to whether you want to press charges immediately after being sexually assaulted, but once the evidence is gone, it makes it more difficult to pursue a case against your attacker when you do have that moment of clarity and want justice.
- Report the attack: During a crisis, it can be difficult to find your voice. You feel violated. It is okay to feel like you are overwhelmed by many different emotions, but know that you did nothing wrong. You may feel ashamed, embarrassed, frightened, and those feelings in this situation are completely understandable. You may not feel like talking about your experience to the police just yet, but you should talk about it with someone, even if it’s an anonymous call to the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673). You are not alone, and there are those who want to help you.
- Save evidence: If you don’t immediately report your assault to the police or seek medical attention, it is critical to try and save the clothing or items from the attack. Preserve anything that might have evidence on it, so that it can be used if you decide to file a report.
- Find an attorney: We are a group of people who want to help you when you’re ready. Contact Taylor & Ring to help you try to hold your attacker responsible. While it can be helpful, it is not required that you file a police report to seek out a civil lawsuit for sexual assault. Our attorneys are experienced with handling cases where victims who feel hopeless when they first come into our offices, only to learn that they may have a successful claim.
Sexual assault is unfortunately prevalent throughout our society, even in the nation’s federal prison system. This sort of behavior should not be reinforced or allowed. Hopefully with charges being filed against some guards and a new warden in place, the Dublin prison will straighten out its act, and become a far more civil place to hold our nation’s incarcerated population.
If you have been sexually assaulted, whether it was by someone you know or someone you don’t, it is important that you find an attorney who will care for and fight for you when you are ready to make your report. You don’t have to suffer alone. Contact the compassionate Los Angeles attorneys at Taylor & Ring through this form or by calling 310-776-6390 to arrange a free confidential consultation. We serve clients throughout Southern California.