Legal advocates seek public access to court records about abuse at California women's prison

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Two advocacy groups on Wednesday asked a judge to unseal court records and preserve public access to hearings in the class action lawsuit against the federal Bureau of Prisons over the sexual abuse of incarcerated women at a now-shuttered California prison.

The bureau announced suddenly on April 15 that it would close FCI Dublin and transfer about 600 women despite attempts to reform the facility after an Associated Press investigation exposed rampant staff-on-inmate assaults.

The legal nonprofit Public Justice and the ACLU of Northern California jointly filed a motion for increased transparency in the case, which is set for trial next June.

In the weeks since the process began, the federal district court held a series of closed hearings to address the hastily planned closure of the prison near San Francisco. “These hearings took place without prior notice, and in many instances, the docket does not reflect that they even occurred,” the groups said in a statement Wednesday.

In addition, the court has “granted numerous motions to seal records in the case and many of the motions themselves are under seal, leaving the public and the press in the dark,” the statement said.

The groups argued that previously sealed documents should be made public because concerns over security are irrelevant now that FCI Dublin is closed.

The prisons bureau said in a statement Wednesday that it does not comment on matters pending before the court.

“Holding government officials accountable for the horrific conditions at FCI Dublin requires complete transparency," said Angelica Salceda, director of the Democracy and Civic Engagement program at the ACLU of Northern California. "The public must know the full extent of the systemic sexual misconduct that occurred there, as well as what happened during those final chaotic weeks leading up to the facility’s closure and in the immediate aftermath.”

Prisons officials have reiterated that the closure plan was carefully considered over months.

FCI Dublin inmates sued the prisons bureau last August alleging the agency had failed to root out sexual abuse.