Law on Correctional Employees Engaging in Sexual Conduct or Intimate Relationship with Inmates in NSW

By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.

 

A Sydney prison guard is facing the grim possibility of two years behind bars over an alleged sexual relationship she had with an inmate that continued for several months in the confines of a Western Sydney jail.

Melissa Goodwin was provisionally stood down in May 2020 by her employer, Corrective Services NSW, during which time an internal investigation was conducted into the alleged sexual relationship at Silverwater Prison.

The investigation was initiated following a referral from Corrective Services due to suspicion of the relationship, which is alleged to have started in November 2019.

Police allege the 25-year-old carried out five sexual acts with a male prisoner at the Silverwater facility.

There are also allegations the woman smuggled in contraband items for her lover at the jail, including tobacco, chewing gum and cigarette lighters.

On 25 May 2020, Ms Goodwin was arrested at her home in Ingleburn by investigators and taken to Campbelltown Police Station for questioning.

She was charged with the offences of holder of public office misconduct and engage in relationship with inmate cause safety risk.

Ms Goodwin was granted bail to appear in court in July, while the male prisoner was moved from Silverwater Prison to a different facility.

In the aftermath of the woman’s arrest, it was also revealed that the once prison guard was already under investigation for a second relationship with a former inmate at the same jail.

 

Police Warn of “Zero-Tolerance Approach” to Sworn Officers Who Engage in Misconduct

In light of the woman’s misconduct, police warned of a “zero-tolerance approach” to any such behaviour involving sworn officers, while Detective Inspector Hollows – Commander of Corrective Services Investigation Unit – said there “will be consequences” for such misdemeanour.

“We take these matters very seriously — we will investigate, we will prosecute and we will put before the court any officer or corrective services employee … and deal with them that way,” Detective Inspector Hollows said.

“You’re dealing with inmates in a correctional facility, they have broken the law and for a sworn officer to engage with any type of activity with an inmate, there will be consequences.”

Detective Inspector Robert Hollows said the woman, by allegedly pursuing an indecent relationship with the male prisoner, compromised the safety of the jail.

 

Community Concerns Prompts NSW Government to Introduce Jail Time for Officers in Intimate Relationships

In November 2018, the NSW Government introduced a maximum two-year jail sentence for prison officers and correctional staff who have sex or carry out an intimate relationship with an inmate.

The new offence came into play as a response to community concerns about a small minority of staff who engage in inappropriate relationships with inmates and offenders on community orders.

The new offence was also tailored to complement the Taskforce Themis investigation, led by former Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch, into the management of historical allegations of inappropriate relationships within the prison system.

The law applies to staff members both in public and private operated jails, as well as community corrections staff.

The law also supports the Corrective Service NSW code of conduct and the common law offence of misconduct in public office.

Speaking of the new offence, Minister for Corrections David Elliott said he was in support of the vast majority of staff and correctional officers who discharge their duties with diligence and honour, allowing the prison system to deliver punishment and restoration in a safe setting.

“I stand with all prison officers and correctional staff who are appalled by the reports of alleged inappropriate relationships with offenders and express my gratitude for the work they do in one of the most challenging professions in NSW,” Mr Elliott said.

“Prisons should deliver punishment and rehabilitation in a secure environment. An inappropriate relationship with an inmate puts that in jeopardy.”

Law on Prison Guards or Correctional Employees Engaging in Sexual Conduct or Intimate Relationship with Inmates in NSW

In NSW, it is against the law for a correctional employee to engage in sexual conduct or an intimate relationship with an inmate or a person who is subject to a community-based order where such conduct or relationship causes a risk or potential risk to the safety or security of a correctional centre or complex or to good order and discipline in the correctional centre or complex.

According to section 236Q, it is also an offence where a correctional employee engages in sexual conduct or an intimate relationship with an inmate or person who is subject to a community-based order and the conduct or relationship compromises the proper administration of a sentence or a community-based order.

This public office misconduct offence attracts up to 2-years imprisonment or $2,200 fine, or both, prescribed by section 236Q Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act 1999 (NSW).

It should be noted, that as a defence to this, it is not an offence under this section if a correctional employee did not know, while the employee engaged in sexual conduct or an intimate relationship with an inmate or person subject to a community-based order, that the other person was an inmate or subject to the order.

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