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Sex Scandal: Why Are So Many Female Guards Having Sex with Prisoners in This UK Jail?

Since last year, 18 women employed at the male prison have been dismissed or resigned for breaching rules on inmate relationships

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on April 24, 2024, 17:53:06

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In 2017, when Britain's largest prison, HMP Berwyn, opened its doors, it was celebrated as a £212-million beacon of offender rehabilitation.

However, just seven years later, the facility in North Wales has garnered a drastically altered reputation — now serving as the focal point of a sex scandal that has engulfed the entire Prison Service, Daily Mail reported.

Reports from last year revealed that a staggering 18 women employed at the Category C 'super-prison' for adult males, boasting a capacity of 2,100, had either been dismissed or resigned due to breaching rules regarding relationships with inmates.

Consider the case of probationary officer Ayshea Gunn, who engaged in over 1,200 phone calls, including explicit video calls, with prisoner Khuram Razaq. She even smuggled a pair of underwear into his cell, concealed in her bra.

Similarly, her colleague Emily Watson partook in a sexual act with an inmate in his cell on Christmas Day.

This misconduct is not isolated to HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, which renames cells as 'rooms', blocks as 'communities', and allows inmates to possess personal phones and laptops.

Forbidden Relationships

There has been a concerning surge in the number of female officers from across HM Prison Service found culpable of cultivating forbidden relationships.

Recently, two female prison employees appeared at Bolton Crown Court, accused of simultaneously engaging in relationships with the same inmate. Aleesha Bates, 30, and Jodie Wilkes, 27, exchanged numerous messages with a prisoner in an illicit love triangle at HMP Buckley Hall, Rochdale.

Bates, infatuated, sent explicit messages and photos, even planning a future once the inmate was released. Wilkes, an operational support worker, became involved when a contraband phone with 'dozens' of messages was discovered in the prisoner's possession.

Both women pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office, resulting in Bates receiving a two-year and eight-month sentence, while Wilkes was given a 12-month suspended sentence for two years.

Although this issue is not exclusive to female staff in male prisons, the statistics are striking. In the three years leading to March 2023, 31 female prison staff in male prisons were dismissed, including one who bore her inmate lover's child and another who tattooed his cell number on her thigh.

This represents a more than 50 per cent increase from the 19 dismissals in the preceding four-year period, not including incidents at private prisons operated by companies like G4S, Serco and Sodexo.

During the same timeframe, five male employees in male prisons and one or two women in female prisons were dismissed for inappropriate relationships.

According to insiders, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. As a former prison officer, identified as Officer A to preserve anonymity, disclosed to the Mail: “The actual numbers will likely be much higher than reported because these incidents are often swept under the rug — if a sexual relationship comes to light, the officer is typically given the opportunity to resign. Authorities prefer to keep these matters confidential as they are deeply embarrassing.”

What Truly Unfolds Behind Prison Walls?

For an outsider, comprehending what motivates an officer to risk an affair with an inmate, knowing the potential consequences if discovered, remains baffling. The question persists: what truly unfolds behind prison walls?

Vanessa Frake, who served in the prison system for 27 years, including as governor at the challenging men's prison Wormwood Scrubs, expresses deep concern over recent revelations.

"I believe this type of behaviour has always existed in some form," she states. "However, when you see the frequency of reported incidents at places like HMP Berwyn, it raises serious questions about how this has been allowed to happen."

Frake points to changes in prison staffing policies as a contributing factor. Historically, under the 1823 Gaol Act, women's prisons were exclusively staffed by women and men's prisons by men for approximately 150 years.

It was only in the 1980s that cross-sex postings began to be advertised. Since then, the influx of women entering the prison service has rapidly increased, with approximately 40 per cent of public sector prison staff now being female.

Additionally, perceptions of prison service employment have shifted over time. "When I joined, I saw it as my lifelong career," Frake reflects. "Unfortunately, nowadays the prison service is often viewed as a temporary stopgap for young individuals who spend a couple of years before moving on to something else."

The minimum entry age for recruits has decreased from 21 (when Frake joined) to just 18. "In my view, that's too young," she asserts. "You have 18-year-olds interacting with seasoned criminals who are much older and experienced."

Frake is not alone in her concerns about younger and less experienced recruits being susceptible to manipulation. "Previously, many officers in challenging prisons were ex-military, with significant real-life experience and a lack of intimidation," notes Officer A, who departed from the system seven years ago after a decade of service in the north-east of England.

"However, there was a shift to hiring more individuals straight out of school who were eager but lacked the confidence to deal with hardened criminals," Officer A continues.

"If you're a 19 or 20-year-old, relatively small in stature, you won't have the same confidence or authority to confront these individuals, and they'll perceive you as more compliant and easier to manipulate than a seasoned officer. It's a harsh reality."

Another former officer, referred to as Officer B, also voices concerns that junior officers are being entrusted with greater responsibilities prematurely. "I speak with former colleagues who say someone with just 18 months of experience might be the most senior person on a wing, making critical decisions for the team. It's concerning."

Frake, author of "The Governor: My Life Inside Britain's Most Notorious Prisons," emphasises deficiencies in training, vetting procedures, and mentorship within the system. "It's all so rushed now," she laments.

"There's overcrowding, staff shortages, and a host of other issues, and then you have someone walking in who isn't perceived as a vulnerable young person, but merely another body expected to manage a prison wing."

Last year, Mark Fairhurst, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association (POA), cited inadequate training and vetting as contributing factors to officers succumbing to corruption. Fairhurst highlighted that interviews are often conducted remotely via Zoom, making it challenging for supervisors to identify potential issues.

Moreover, guards are reportedly struggling to maintain control over inmates, while inmates keenly observe guards for vulnerabilities they can exploit, Officer B explains.

"To many prisoners, sexual relationships or flirtation isn't the end goal—it's a means to gain leverage for smuggling tobacco, drugs, or mobile phones. They understand that forming a personal connection can be a way to manipulate and gain influence over officers."

“Inexperienced officers, especially younger women working in a male prison environment, may feel vulnerable and targeted.”

Complex Realities

The motivations of prisoners are clear, but what drives officers to fall for these tactics?

Some observers attribute this trend to an unconscious urge to pursue unsuitable partners, perpetuating clichés about women being drawn to 'bad boys'.

However, the reality is more complex and involves a variety of factors, including attraction and a tendency to transgress boundaries. According to Officer B, inmates often employ a deliberate strategy of coercion.

"You cannot show any weakness, or you're done," Officer B advises. "I would caution recruits never to discuss their personal lives in public areas because prisoners listen and use that information against you.

It might start with a small challenge, like a game of pool for a candy bar. If you break the rules, they have leverage. The pressure builds from there."

Once a boundary is breached, others quickly follow, shifting the power dynamic from officer to prisoner. "The inmate has nothing to lose—they're already in prison," Officer B explains.

"But for the officer, their entire life is at stake. If the inmate can ruin you, you'll do anything to prevent that."

When sentencing Bates, Judge Elliot Knopf acknowledged that the prison officer had been 'ensnared' by her lover, remarking that she didn't have to accept his advances.

As for the logistics of illicit affairs within a closely monitored prison, Officer B notes that there are numerous opportunities, such as secluded rooms or cells, especially with accomplices to keep watch.

Officer A recalls an incident where a colleague was caught in a compromising situation with an inmate in a medical room, exposed by a distinctive tattoo that only a few colleagues knew about.

While offenders like the officer in that case may escape consequences, others face severe penalties for crossing the line.
Unfortunately, the focus often shifts solely to the officer, neglecting the manipulative behaviour of prisoners behind bars.
"There are legal mechanisms to address this behaviour," Vanessa emphasises.

"We need to be more assertive in holding these corrupters accountable." A Prison Service spokesperson highlighted efforts to combat corruption within the system, catching the minority of staff engaging in misconduct.

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