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Articles by Jo Ellen Nott

Lawsuit By California Youth Alliance Prompts County Probation Chiefs to Dissolve Secretive Nonprofit

by Jo Ellen Nott

On June 23, 2023, a group consisting of 55 of the 58 California county probation chiefs quietly disbanded the nonprofit they formed out of the public’s eye to provide housing and treatment to youth being transferred out of the state juvenile justice system. They had worked ...

“Sisters-In-Law” of Brazilian Prisoners Going Viral on TikTok

by Jo Ellen Nott

The wives and girlfriends of some 8,500 Brazilian prisoners are finding fame and fortune with “sister-in-law” videos that have gone viral on the TikTok social media app. The videos offer a window into the harsh reality of life in Brazil’s prisons, where overcrowding and violence are ...

Alabama Guards Still Harming Prisoners, Overcrowding Set to Increase as Governor Slashes “Good Time”

by Jo Ellen Nott and Chuck Sharman

Long notorious for harsh prison conditions, Alabama’s Department of Corrections (DOC) shows no signs of remediating them despite not one but two suits by the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) for violating the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights of state prisoners.

In the most recent news out of Alabama lockups, a guard was convicted on April 19, 2023, of beating three compliant prisoners with a wooden riot baton at the now-closed Draper Correctional Facility (CF). Former DOC Sgt. Lorenzo Mills, 55, also lied about the incident afterwards. In October 2020, Mills left the three unnamed prisoners with injuries including a broken arm, pain, and bruising. He then falsified his official report, saying he had not used force against the men. [See: PLN, Oct. 2022, p.22.]  He was convicted of three civil rights charges and another for writing the false report. According to the U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, Mills will “face a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the civil rights charges and 20 years in prison for the obstruction of justice offense.”

Less than a week before Mills was convicted, Republican Gov. Kay ...

Protest Damages Massachusetts Jail that Sheriff Wants to Update

by Jo Ellen Nott

On April 21, 2023, about 75-80 detainees staged a protest against their move inside Massachusetts’ Bristol County House of Correction. The move was to allow renovations to make their cells suicide resistant. Among their grievances was the high cost of items in the jail commissary, the sale of which is funding the renovations. Convenient for Sheriff Paul Heroux, the protest caused no injuries but enough damages to grab the attention of state lawmakers, who can throw more money his way for updates to the 40-year-old lockup.

Though the detainees were awaiting trial, Heroux said some face multiple murder charges and are more hardened than the lockup’s convicted prisoners, all of whom are serving sentences not exceeding two and a half years. The detainees began planning their protest the night before, when they learned they were being moved to cells with locks the following day. Heroux said that approximately half the cells in the 1,400-bed jail do not have locks because they lack toilets, so doors must remain opened to allow detainees bathroom access. The planned renovations to the facility include adding a toilet to every cell, along with a lock.

The stand-off began at 9 a.m, ...

Four Month Prison Term for BOP Compliance Monitor in Miami Who Sexually Abused Prisoner on His Case Load

by Jo Ellen Nott

On April 14, 2023, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Scola sentenced a federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) site supervisor in Miami to four months in prison followed by a year of supervised release, after accepting his guilty plea to one count of abusive sexual contact against a federal prisoner on house arrest, whose case he was assigned.

Benito Montes de Oca Cruz, 60, worked as a compliance monitor for Riverside House, a private facility operated under contract from BOP to provide custodial, supervisory and disciplinary control of federal prisoners on home confinement.

During a supervision visit on December 28, 2020, Montes de Oca Cruz engaged in sexual contact “with and by the victim.” More specifically he touched the prisoner’s breasts, genitals, and buttocks, made her get naked, then got on top of her. Montes de Oca Cruz finished the home visit by ordering the prisoner to masturbate him.

The prisoner had little choice but to submit to her monitor when he demanded sexual favors. But revenge is a dish best served cold, as French author Eugène Sue wrote in the 1800s. Montes de Oca Cruz most likely did not suspect his victim retained evidence of the ...

Fifth BOP Staff Conviction and Sixth Arrest in California Prison ‘Rape Club’

by Jo Ellen Nott

Sexually abusive guards and their former warden are falling like dominoes as prisoners brave retaliation to report sexual abuse at the Federal Correction Institute (FCI) in Dublin, the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) lockup in California now known as the “Rape Club.”

Six staffers have been charged. Five have been convicted. Four have been sentenced.

The latest guilty verdict was returned by a jury in federal court for the Northern District of California on June 5, 2023, against John Russell Bellhouse, 40. The former guard was convicted on five counts of sexually abusing two prisoners in 2019 and 2020.

He was originally charged with assaulting a prisoner he called his “girlfriend” in 2020, giving her earrings and letting her use his office phone. In return, he twice accepted oral sex from her in the prison safety office where he worked. A superceding indictment added another victim recruited to act as lookout for these liasons, though he had sex with her, too. Federal prisoners cannot legally consent to sex with BOP staff, and any sexual contact between them is a crime.

For each of two convictions of sexual abuse of a ward, in violation of 18 U.S.C. ...

Fifth Detainee Dies in 2023 at California’s Santa Rita Jail

by Jo Ellen Nott

A homeless man who lived behind a Kohl’s Department Store in Livermore, California, become the fifth detainee to die this year in Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail (SRJ). Eric Magana, 26, committed suicide by “consuming a profuse amount of water” in his cell on April 27, 2023. 

Just a month earlier, Magana had been picked up on unspecified charges, when he told cops he threw a rock at a jewelry store because he was just “trying to survive.” Magana also said “he was worried about his life because he [didn’t] have any money, food or work.” Then he apologized for anything bad he had done. 

That apparently included an “extensive assaultive history on staff” at the jail, which was noted when Magana was booked on March 28, 2023, and placed in a single-man cell in SRJ’s Restrictive Housing Unit (RHU). Magana admitted to using drugs the day before his arrest, but the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) said that “there was no cause for concern found during the medical and mental health intake process.” 

Acute water intoxication flushes the body of sodium until levels become lethally low, a condition known as hyponatremia. Depressingly, it is not unheard-of ...

Ohio Prisoner Escapes in Dumpster, Drowns River

by Jo Ellen Nott

An escapee from Ohio’s Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima was able to get almost 300 miles away by first hiding in a dumpster then fleeing in a stolen car. His escape ended badly then – his corpse was found floating face down in the Ohio ...

Millionaire Florida Child Porn Convict’s Escape Thwarted

by Jo Ellen Nott

April 12, 2023, would have been Independence Day for Florida millionaire and child porn collector John Manchec – if only someone had not ratted him out, according to Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers.

Manchec, 78, had previously fled the U.S. to France in 2014 to ...

Detainee Dies After Two Days in Florida Jail Where Armor Correctional Allegedly Denied Heart Transplant Rejection Meds

by Jo Ellen Nott

Dexter Barry, 54, waited 12 years to receive a new heart. He even moved to Jacksonville to receive the life-saving transplant in 2020. In just two days in late November 2022, however, a stay in the Duval County Jail (DCJ) undid the miraculous $4-million surgery when ...