A government watchdog has uncovered a ‘substantial likelihood’ the federal Bureau of Prisons committed wrongdoing by ignoring complaints and failing to address asbestos and mold contamination at a federal women’s prison in California
WASHINGTON — A government watchdog found a “substantial likelihood” the federal Bureau of Prisons committed wrongdoing by ignoring complaints and failing to address asbestos and mold contamination at a federal women’s prison in California that has already come under scrutiny for rampant inmate sexual abuse.
The US Office of Special Advocates now wants Attorney General Merrick Garland to step in to investigate the allegations after several whistleblower complaints were filed earlier this year. The bureau detailed its findings in a letter last week and asked Garland to submit a report within 60 days.
The whistleblower complaints, filed by union officials at the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, alleged that senior Bureau of Prisons officials failed to act to resolve allegations of workplace contamination. The union had repeatedly complained that corrections officers and other prison and inmate workers were being exposed to potentially dangerous mold and asbestos, but says those concerns have been ignored.
The Department of Justice has already investigated gross misconduct in Dublin, where five staff – including the former manager – have been accused of sexually abusing inmates. An Associated Press investigation this year revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct and detailed a toxic culture that allowed it to continue for years.
After the AP’s investigation was published, prison whistleblowers said they were being attacked for speaking out. The Bureau of Prisons launched a task force of 18 senior staff who visited the prison in March to assess conditions there and work on reforming the facility. The agency’s director, Michael Carvajal, also visited the prison.
In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said its staff members conduct weekly fire, safety and sanitation inspections and that staff members are encouraged to report unsafe or unsanitary conditions to their supervisors. He said anyone who thinks such a condition exists can report it to the warden, other prison system officials or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“Any security issues reported by Dublin staff are being addressed,” Bureau of Prisons spokesman Emery Nelson said in a statement.
The Office of Special Counsel said that while it found “a substantial likelihood of wrongdoing” based on the complaint filed, the referral to Garland does not constitute its final decision. The case remains open until the agency submits its final report, which then goes to President Joe Biden and Congress.
Sisak reported from New York. On Twitter, follow Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips