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Ex-correctional officer at Dublin women’s prison gets 5 years for sexually abusing inmates

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A former federal correctional officer was sentenced Friday to more than five years in prison for sexually abusing two inmates at a women’s prison in California where the warden and other employees were charged with similar conduct.

A federal jury in June found John Russell Bellhouse guilty on two counts of sexual abuse and three counts of abusive sexual contact involving the two women between 2019 and 2020 at FCI Dublin, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Oakland.

He was sentenced to five years and three months behind bars on Friday.

U.S. Attorney Ismail J. Ramsey for the Northern District of California, whose office prosecuted the case, said the sentence “makes clear that the sexual abuse of inmates by guards will not be tolerated.”

“This conduct was a disturbing deviation from the expectations and requirements of all federal correctional officers,” Ramsey said in a statement Friday. “Bellhouse violated his oath and abused the power given to him, all to victimize the people he was supposed to protect.”

Bellhouse’s was the eighth case against the facility’s correctional officers for sexual abuse crimes, according to the FBI. The prison’s former warden, Ray Garcia, was convicted in December of molesting inmates and forcing them to pose naked in their cells. He was sentenced to serve six years in prison.

An Associated Press investigation revealed a culture of abuse and cover-up that had persisted for years at the facility, prompting the Bureau of Prisons to launch new training for wardens and create specialized teams aimed at curtailing sexual abuse at the nation’s federal prisons.

An attorney for Bellhouse, Shaffy Moeel, didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

In court documents, prosecutors wrote that Bellhouse “began to express an interest in a particular female inmate and started calling the inmate his ‘girlfriend'” in 2020. Authorities said he inappropriately touched the woman and that she performed oral sex on Bellhouse twice in the prison’s safety office.

All sexual activity between a prison worker and an inmate is illegal.

Prosecutors said Bellhouse allowed one woman to use an office phone — a violation of Bureau of Prisons policy — and also gave her earrings. Another inmate was tasked to act like a lookout during at least one of the sexual encounters, prosecutors said.

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