FBI agents accused of ignoring asbestos and mold at women’s prison

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A government watchdog has found a “substantial likelihood” that the Federal Bureau of Prisons engaged in wrongdoing when it ignored complaints and failed to address asbestos and mold contamination at a federal women’s prison in California, the already investigated for rampant sexual abuse of inmates.

The US Office of Special Counsel now wants Attorney General Merrick Garland to step in to investigate the allegations after multiple whistleblower complaints were filed earlier this year. The bureau detailed its findings in a letter last week, asking Garland to provide 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 correctional officers and other prison workers and inmates were being exposed to potentially dangerous mold and asbestos, but said those concerns were ignored.

“Management’s failure to address unsafe and hazardous working conditions at FCI Dublin has put the health and safety of staff and inmates at significant risk,” said Edward Canales, Dublin Union leader. “We look forward to the outcome of this investigation which we hope will result in the unsafe conditions being remedied and appropriate disciplinary action taken against the managers who failed to act.”

The Department of Justice has already investigated serious wrongdoing in Dublin, where five staff members – including the former warden – have been charged with sexually abusing inmates. An Associated Press investigation this year revealed a pattern of sexual misconduct and detailed a toxic culture that allowed it to persist for years.

After the AP investigation was published, whistleblowers in prison said they were being attacked for speaking up. The Bureau of Prisons set up a task force of 18 senior officers who visited the prison in March to assess conditions and work on reforming the facility. The agency’s director, Michael Carvajal, also visited the prison.

The Justice Department said Saturday it had received the letter and “appreciates OSC’s ability to respond to these concerns.” It said the Bureau of Prisons is “addressing concerns raised by staff in Dublin and working to ensure all facilities are operated in safe and healthy conditions”.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons said its staff conduct weekly fire, safety and sanitation inspections and staff are encouraged to report unsafe or unhealthy conditions to their supervisors. Anyone who believes such a condition exists can report it to the Warden, other officials in the prison system, or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“Any security concerns reported by staff in Dublin will be addressed,” Bureau of Prisons spokesman Emery Nelson said in a statement.

The Office of Special Counsel said that while it found “a significant 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 will then be forwarded to President Joe Biden and Congress.

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Sisak reported from New York. Follow Balsamo on Twitter at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips at https://www.ap.org/tips

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