This week, the trial begins for the former warden of a California prison in which sexual abuse perpetrated by staffers was so rampant that they internally nicknamed it the “rape club,” according to the Associated Press. The warden, Ray Garcia, oversaw the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, California, and is charged with abusing three incarcerated women between December 2019 and July 2021. Garcia was put on administrative leave after FBI agents uncovered nude photos of some of these women on his phone. He retired shortly after and was arrested in September 2021.
On Monday, one woman testified that Garcia had seduced her by making her feel “like he cared about me and he loved me.” She recounted Garcia taking her to an area of the prison visitor area where he said surveillance cameras wouldn’t catch them for their first sexual encounter. She said he used his phone to take nude photos of her performing sexual acts on a candy cane in December 2019.
The woman also testified that she remains “tormented” by what happened at Dublin. “Getting sentenced to 15 years was nothing compared to what I have gone through,” she said. “They play God with your life. They control it.”
According to prosecutors, Garcia routinely instructed incarcerated women to strip naked for him while he made his rounds. Court records show that he told the FBI last July, “If they’re undressing, I’ve already looked. I don’t, like, schedule a time like, ‘You be undressed, and I’ll be there.’”
Prosecutors also claim that Garcia kept his victims quiet by promising them early release, or with threats and intimidation. He allegedly told one woman that he would never face accountability for his abusive acts, because he was “close friends” with the prison official who investigated staff misconduct. Some incarcerated women allege they were sent to solitary confinement as retaliation for reporting prison staffers of abuse.
KTLA reported that court documents show Garcia told others he liked to abuse and have sexual relationships with incarcerated women because, given their status and utter lack of power, they couldn’t “ruin” him. It’s for this exact reason that sexual abuse by guards and staff is endemic within the prison system.
According to the Lake County Record-Bee, up to six women are set to testify against Garcia, who pleaded not guilty after being arrested last September. Garcia now faces up to 15 years in prison himself. He’s one of five officials from Dublin charged with acts of sexual abuse at the prison, three of whom have already pleaded guilty. Garcia is notably the highest-ranking federal prison official arrested in the last decade, per KTLA.
An AP investigation from the beginning of this year found that complaints about sexual abuse at the Dublin facility trace as far back as five years ago, but it isn’t clear whether these complaints led to any action. One incarcerated woman said a prison staffer told her, “Let the games begin,” before assigning her to work with another staffer who then raped her.
One study has found that 60% of prison rapes are perpetrated by prison staff. Sexual misconduct is rampant at prisons, and the vast majority of those who are incarcerated have already experienced sexual assault outside of prison. Conversely, it’s highly rare that perpetrators of sexual assault are ever imprisoned.
Earlier this month, a New York Times report found hundreds of women who had been incarcerated in the New York state prison system were set to sue the state, alleging they were sexually assaulted by prison staff.
These stories appear to be the tip of the iceberg.