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On June 5, 2023, former FCI Dublin correctional officer John Russell Bellhouse was convicted of 5 counts of sexually abusive contact involving two women from 2019 to 2020. Bellhouse is one of six officers who has been charged with sexually abusive contact against an inmate at FCI Dublin and is the fifth officer to be convicted. He is scheduled to be sentenced on August 30, 2023.
Bellhouse served as a correctional officer and safety administrator at FCI Dublin before being placed on administrative leave in March 2021 after he was named in an investigation for misconduct including sexual assault and providing contraband to inmates. The investigation revealed that Bellhouse assaulted three female inmates between 2019 and 2020. One of the inmates testified that Bellhouse sexually assaulted her although the U.S. attorney did not file formal charges as it pertained to her.
Sexual abuse of a prisoner in custody by an employee is a federal crime punishable by up to 15 years of imprisonment and is also subject to administrative sanctions by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The BOP has a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of sexual activity, including sexual abuse and harassment. In 2005, the Office of the Inspector General explained that it is impossible for a prisoner to consent to sexual activity with corrections staff because staff members and inmates have “inherently unequal positions.” Thus, inmates do not have the ability to consent to a sexual relationship regardless of what an officer may have told them about the nature of their relationship.
The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) mandates that BOP facilities establish reporting mechanisms for inmates to raise complaints about sexual abuse, and facilities are also required to institute staff prevention and response training, conduct proper investigations of assault claims, and appropriately discipline officers. However, Ray J. Garcia was both the Warden and PREA coordinator at FCI Dublin from 2019 to 2021 despite the fact that he was engaging in sexually abusive contact with numerous inmates and was also aware that his staff members were as well.
This culture of abuse emboldened correctional officers to threaten to retaliate against women if they reported their abuse, wrongly putting numerous women at risk. In May of 2022, 25 employees were placed on leave and numerous additional correctional officers have been accused of sexually assaulting inmates.
However, Bellhouse also violated other BOP policies by exchanging sex for gifts, bringing women outside contraband such as earrings and outside food, and by making another woman act as a lookout while he was engaging in misconduct. All of these behaviors are characterized as Classification 1 cases of misconduct and constitute prosecutable offenses if substantiated.
As a result of the abuse taking place at FCI Dublin, FCI Tallahassee, and other correctional facilities across the U.S., the BOP stated they are committed to protecting the security of inmates. Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco affirmed this sentiment on September 29, 2022, when charges were first raised against Bellhouse:
The additional charges unsealed today demonstrate the priority the Department of Justice has placed on prosecuting cases of sexual misconduct by Bureau of Prison employees. We have no tolerance for correction officers who betray the trust placed in them to safely and humanely care for those in their custody.
At the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm, we can help you take legal action against the prison staff who were responsible for and complicit in causing your abuse. Our experienced team of prison sexual assault attorneys can help survivors process their trauma and seek justice, in a way that feels comfortable and validating for an individual survivor.
With a history of client success, the Jacob Fuchsberg Law Firm will ensure that you get the representation you deserve. If you, or someone you love, have suffered sexual abuse while incarcerated, reach out to Attorney Jaehyun Oh for a confidential initial consultation.
We can help when the unimaginable happens.