From the day he assumed office, Sheriff Michael G. Bellotti has been a proponent of professionalism at every level of the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office. Numerous national accreditation surveys have identified the Norfolk County Correctional Center as one of the nation’s premier correctional facilities.
The Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office has more American Jail Association-certified officers on its staff than any other penal institution in the country. The Norfolk Correctional Center’s Health Services Unit has been repeatedly recognized for certification by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care. Sheriff Bellotti also spearheads an Electronic Incarceration Program – which uses electronic tracking bracelets for inmates – that became the first such program in New England to be accredited by the American Correctional Association.
Sheriff Bellotti’s emphasis on top-notch employee training continues to pay dividends to the citizens of Norfolk County.
“By assembling such a talented staff, we are able to take on ambitious programs that maximize public safety and inmate accountability,” Sheriff Bellotti said.
Sheriff Bellotti’s primary mission is the safe and secure custody and care of inmates and the transportation of those inmates to and from the various courts. However, he recognizes that he has a great opportunity to transform these offenders while they are in his custody. Sheriff Bellotti’s Inmate Re-Entry Initiative, which prepares them for a successful return to society after serving their sentences, has been hailed as “a model for the state” by the Massachusetts Attorney General. The initiative links inmates with outside social services, housing agencies and potential employers, helping them make a smooth transition to being a productive member of a society. The program also notifies police and probation officers about an inmate’s impending release.
As part of his larger community public safety mission, Sheriff Bellotti runs “Are You OK?” a free-to-the-public program that checks daily on the well-being of elderly people living alone. Project Lifesaver, a search-and-rescue program that protects Alzheimer’s patients, autistic children and other vulnerable people in our society, is another key initiative by Sheriff Bellotti. He was the first Norfolk County sheriff to have a full-time victims’ services advocate on staff. His newest initiative is to implement a Rapid Alert Notification System (RANS) program for all 28 communities in Norfolk County that directly notifies area residents when a public safety emergency occurs near their homes.
Sheriff Bellotti also has been an innovative leader in teaching our youth population to make the right choices through his after-school programs, summer team-building academies and sponsorship of programs such as Rachel’s Challenge, a nationally recognized anti-bullying initiative.
“I believe the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Office is uniquely suited to protect the safety and improve the lives of countless people in the area,” Sheriff Bellotti said. “The work never ends, but neither does the satisfaction of doing the job right for the citizens of Norfolk County.”
The Norfolk County Sheriff's Office has a rich history dating back to 1793 when Gov. John Hancock appointed Ebenezer Thayer as the county's first sheriff. Sheriff Bellotti is the 17th person to hold the office.
The word, "sheriff," is a blend of the old English words, "shire" and "reeve". A shire was a geographic area of jurisdiction, and a reeve was the person appointed by the king to keep peace and administer the laws of the land.
The current Norfolk County Correctional Center, which opened in 1992 at 200 West St. in Dedham, is the only correctional institution in the United States that is located between the lanes of an interstate highway. The jail sits between the northbound and southbound lanes of Interstate 95, also known as Route 128. The former jail, a handsome stone structure on Village Avenue in Dedham, has been converted to luxury condominiums.
The most notorious prisoners held in custody by the Norfolk County Sheriff's Office were Nicola Sacco and Bartolommeo Vanzetti. They were members of an Italian-American anarchist group known as The Galleanists when they were arrested for the murders of two Braintree shoe company employees during a payroll robbery in 1920. Sacco and Vanzetti claimed they had alibis.
At trial, their defense witnesses primarily were fellow immigrants who testified in broken English or in Italian through a translator. The case generated a surge of anti-immigrant sentiment and received international media attention. The two men were executed in 1927 after their lawyers exhausted their court appeals, but there continued to be questions about whether they received a fair trail. Years later, Gov. Michael Dukakis signed a proclamation stating, "Any stigma and disgrace should forever be removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolommeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti."
The last death penalty execution in Massachusetts took place on May 9, 1947 in Charlestown, but prior to that, executions were a relatively common occurrence. The last execution in Dedham occurred at the old jail on Village Avenue on June 25, 1875. The beam from which convicted murderer Henri Costley was hanged is still in a warehouse maintained by the Norfolk County Sheriff's Office. Costley had been convicted of murdering his housekeeper -- with whom he had a romantic relationship -- after he became engaged to his wife.
On Jan. 26, 1975, Norfolk County Correction Officer Joseph Stroy acted with extraordinary valor in the face of danger and suffered a bullet wound during an escape at the old Village Avenue jail.
About 7p.m. that night, a fellow correction officer opened a cell door to allow an inmate to use a payphone. He was confronted by an inmate holding a gun pointed directly at his nose. The gunman and his cellmate grabbed the officer's keys. They opened two more cells, and a total of four inmates rushed to the "cage," from which the jail's main door was controlled.
Stroy manned the cage that night. Staring at the gun barrel thrust through the wire mesh about six feet away, Stroy refused the inmates' demands to open the door. Instead, he turned to pull an alarm. The gunman fired, and Stroy slumped to the floor with a bullet in his back. The inmates stuck a broom handle through the cage to push a button and open the door.
Three of the four inmates were recaptured within 24 hours. The fourth was nabbed shortly after that. It was later determined that the escapees received their gun from an accomplice who threw it over the jail wall. Stroy never fully recovered from his wound, suffering paralysis in his left leg and ultimately losing it to amputation. Joe Stroy died in the 1989 at the age of 64.
On the morning of Nov. 25, 1978, a fire broke out in the north wing of the old Village Avenue jail. All 109 inmates were assembled in the jail courtyard while firefighters battled the blaze from outside the walls. With the help of area police departments and Sheriff's Offices, all 109 inmates were transferred to other jails - primarily in Billerica, Boston and Worcester. The entire move took just four hours.
Later, a handful of inmates with construction skills returned to the jail to live and rebuild the damaged section. The jail reopened for all inmates in January 1980.