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Making a Difference Within the Federal Prison System

Theresa Talplacido

For Theresa Talplacido ’00, enrolling in law school was her chance to make a difference.

Having served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Talplacido spent her undergraduate years at San Diego State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. During that time, she covered correctional law and interned at the San Diego Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP).

“After SDSU, I saw law school as the natural progression to fulfill my ambitions in the legal profession,” says Talplacido.

“California Western had a great reputation and an appealing two-year program,” she continues. “I was particularly drawn to their dedication to creative problem-solving within the field of law generally and could see how important that could be within the criminal justice system specifically.”

Talplacido enjoyed her studies at Cal Western, interacting well with the faculty. “My first year was probably the most nerve-wracking,” recalls Talplacido. “But the school really allowed me to get settled. I soon learned that I studied better with a group, and it was fine to ask for help. I couldn’t have done law school without my law school friends, who are now lifelong friends. I also enjoyed the social events at the school, especially gatherings at professors’ homes.”

Passing the California Bar first time, Talplacido was hired by the BOP at the U.S Penitentiary at Lompoc, Calif. in October 2001. That began a lengthy career in the federal prison system for Talplacido with jobs at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac, Wash., the Federal Correctional Complex in Tucson, Ariz., and the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego.

As a BOP attorney, Talplacido is the legal representative for her prison facility. She works closely with the warden and executive staff in responding to judges, defense attorneys, and law enforcement partners. She also works with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in responding to civil litigation filed by inmates. She assists the U.S. Attorney’s Office with criminal cases in prosecuting inmates who commit crimes in BOP facilities.

“The most rewarding part of my work is when I meet new issues,” says Talplacido. “For example, I shepherded an effort to bring disability accommodations to deaf inmates. I referred and assisted the U.S. Attorney’s office with prosecuting sexually aggressive inmates. While the prison work could get routine, there are some days when it is exciting to contribute to making our prison facility more humane and safer for inmates and staff.”

It has been a challenging time in the BOP during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Talplacido, who works in one of the busiest pre-trial detention facilities.

“There is a real tension between ensuring inmates have all their legal rights met and maintaining the health and safety of inmates, staff, attorneys, and others,” says Talplacido. “Law enforcement partners are in constant need to book new inmates, but there is limited bed space for quarantine/isolation reasons, and inmate movements are controlled to allow for social distancing. It’s been my most difficult time in the BOP, but I can say it has also been the most fulfilling because I’ve seen so much good work being done by our staff.”

Talplacido feels very blessed to have found her place in the legal profession, and her wish for new students is for them to find their own path.

“There are more careers for young attorneys now than ever before,” says Talplacido. “So, dream big and be creative. The right path for you may appear in unlikely places.”

Although eligible for retirement, Talplacido has no plans to step down as she still enjoys her work and is looking forward to the future.

“I credit my education from California Western for giving me so much in my career,” says Talplacido. “I hope to do more in the future as an alumna to assist students who are our future.”