Women at Federal “Rape Club” Prison Allege Abuse by Former Warden

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A heated trial has offered a rare opportunity for incarcerated women to speak out.

At the federal courthouse in Oakland, California, last week, an incarcerated woman named Katrina sat in the witness stand, avoiding the gaze of her former warden. The prosecutor asked her to begin by describing the comments the warden, Ray Garcia, made about her breasts after they first met in 2020 on the walkway from her cell to the cafeteria. “Can I have a minute?” she asked the attorney, her voice shaky with emotion.

After a pause she began to speak, her words so soft that it was at times difficult to hear: He said “he would like to see them, to see me topless, to see me nude during rounds.” In the weeks after their first encounter, she added, Garcia repeatedly instructed her to return to her cell and strip for him, and to apply lotion to her skin while he came through the housing unit. It was “humiliating,” she told the jury.

Katrina, whose last name was withheld in court for privacy reasons, is one of several women who are or were incarcerated at the federal prison in Dublin, California, who have accused Garcia of abusing them from 2019 to 2021. They say he showed them photos of his penis, groped them, forced them to strip, and digitally penetrated one of their vaginas. Garcia is among five correctional officers at FCI Dublin to face sex abuse charges in the last couple of years, amid widespread accusations of staff misconduct there. The accusations are so persistent that prisoners and officers now reportedly refer to the facility as “the rape club.”

But Garcia’s case stands out: He’s the highest-ranking federal prison official to be arrested in over a decade, and his prosecution is an exceedingly rare example in which incarcerated women—who normally have little recourse after abuse—have made it all the way to court. The trial has not only allowed them to air their grievances in an official proceeding; it might also condemn their former warden, once the most powerful man at the prison, to years behind bars himself.

“The abuse itself is not what’s exceptional; it’s that anybody is doing anything about it, that anybody is paying attention to it,” says Susan Beaty, an attorney in Oakland. She says dozens of women at Dublin have told her they survived sexual misconduct, and many of them struggled to get investigators to take them seriously: As of February, the Bureau of Prisons had substantiated only 4 out of 422 complaints nationwide of staff-on-prisoner sexual abuse in federal correctional facilities in 2020, according to an Associated Press investigation.

As Katrina testified last week, Garcia, 55, watched her from the defense table, quietly passing notes to his attorney and occasionally shaking his head. He has denied the allegations against him, even after the FBI found sexually explicit photos on his personal and work cellphones and computers, including an image of another nude incarcerated woman on her hands and knees inside a cell at Dublin, with his own face reflected in the window. (Garcia claims he walked in on her during a drug search.) He did not respond to a request for comment about allegations of abuse.

As warden, Garcia could send women to solitary confinement or deny them compassionate release, a form of early release from prison for medical problems or other qualifying events. He also played a big role in abuse investigations, receiving a notification whenever someone accused staff of misconduct. And he seemed to have little fear of accountability, according to the women who testified. They said Garcia knew where the surveillance cameras were and intentionally brought women to areas with blind spots, limiting future video evidence against him.

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