WASHINGTON DC – U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin) sent a letter Friday to the new director of FCI Dublin asking why it appears incarcerated women face “significant obstacles” to talking to their lawyers and demanding that this practice unconstitutional changes immediately.
The letter, obtained by KTVU, was sent to director Thahesha Jusino, who did not immediately respond for comment.
A spokesperson for the US Bureau of Prisons said it is aware of the letter and is “reviewing it,” but added that the office does not comment on correspondence with Congress out of “deference to our members.”
Swalwell reminded Jusino that people in the custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons retain their rights to due process and an attorney, even after sentencing.
However, Swalwell said his office had received “numerous” reports of appeals and legal visits being subject to “unacceptable delays”, which “raises serious constitutional concerns”.
For example, a lawyer emailed FCI Dublin staff nine times to make a phone call. Often it takes a month to get a call or legal visits.
“Given the unfortunate history of FCI Dublin, the exercise of the constitutional right to counsel is particularly urgent for survivors of sexual abuse,” Swalwell wrote to the director. “Immediate action is needed to ensure detainees receive prompt access to legal services without unreasonable delay.”
The letter was also signed by representatives Karen Bass, Mark DeSaulnier and Judy Chu.
Swalwell sent the letter a day after Jusino’s predecessor, Ray J. Garcia, was convicted of sex crimes.
A jury on Thursday found Garcia guilty of groping, fondling and taking nude photos of at least three women incarcerated from 2019 to 2021.
Garcia is one of five FCI correctional officers to be charged with similar sex crimes. Three of the other officers pleaded guilty.
Being able to contact an outside lawyer is crucial, the lawyers point out.
The star witness, Melissa, who testified against Garcia could only share her story of sexual abuse with her attorney, who then contacted the FBI. She did not want to report abuse inside the prison, she testified, because retaliation against her would be swift and severe.
In an interview, Faride Perez-Aucar, attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union Northern California, said it took weeks to email the women at FCI Dublin and additional weeks to get a visit. Then they’re often canceled at the last minute, she says.
She said lawyers at Centro Legal de La Raza in Oakland and other members of the “Coalition of Dublin Survivors” have also faced the same obstacles.
According to Perez-Aucar, that access to lawyers is no better under Jusino, who took over last year, than it was under Garcia.
“There is no difference,” she said.
Garcia’s trial was very important for the women incarcerated at FCI Dublin in terms of holding him accountable, Perez-Aucar said.
“But it doesn’t address the deep and systemic abuses in the prison system,” she said, “in terms of lack of access to lawyers and access to mental health services.”
Under the Prison Rape Elimination Act regulations, incarcerated individuals must be able to report sexual abuse or harassment without the influence of any entity having custody of them, Swalwell reminded Jusino.
This means, Swalwell wrote, that they must be able to contact their lawyer and other lawyers “without undue influence and without being intercepted by FCI Dublin staff”.
Besides access to lawyers, Swalwell also said he was aware of “serious gaps” in the mental and medical health care provided to sexual assault survivors inside prison.
Swalwell noted there was no access to confidential mental health services outside of FCI Dublin, as Tri-Valley Haven, a local rape crisis centre, refused to renew its contract. because of the “extreme difficulties” even in gaining access to prison clients.
“The prison doesn’t allow them in,” Perez-Aucar said.
Swalwell noted that there were failures with the former administration of FCI Dublin – namely the management of Garcia.
And he said he expects Jusino to act differently and take “immediate action” to address the issues he raised.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez
This story was reported in Oakland, California.
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