Earlier this year, a 46-year-old man was admitted to Campbelltown Hospital with bruising and swelling – injuries obtained while in prison.
But these injuries weren’t caused by another inmate. They were alleged to be the result of a brutal bashing by four prison guards.
The incident took place on 27 April this year at the Silverwater Correctional Complex in Sydney, which houses over 9,000 inmates.
Four prison officers were arrested in June over the attack – and each was charged with ‘assault occasioning actual bodily harm in company’ (AOABH) and ‘affray’. The officers were aged 28, 49, 50 and 58 at the time.
All officers were released on bail, which included conditions that they do not enter any correctional facility, and not contact the complainant or any witnesses.
What penalties could they face?
If they are found guilty, the guards face the possibility of a prison sentence.
The offence of AOABH comes with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment under section 59 of the Crimes Act, and seven years if the offence was committed in company.
However, the maximum penalty is two years if the case remains in the Local Court rather than being referred up to the District Court.
Affray involves using, or threatening to use, unlawful violence towards another person and the conduct would cause an ordinary person to fear for their safety. The maximum penalty for affray under section 93C of the Crimes Act is ten years imprisonment, or two years if the case remains in the Local Court.
In the meantime, all four defendants have been suspended from their duties as prison officers.
In addition to these criminal penalties, and the officers may face internal proceedings for misconduct by Corrective Services NSW, according to a spokesperson from the Department.
This means that the matter will progress towards a Local Court Hearing or, if the DPP chooses to takeover the case, towards a District Court trial. But as the DPP has not yet elected to take the matter, it is likely the case will remain in the Local Court.
In the meantime, the men protest their innocence and remain on bail until their next court hearing.
The criminal defence lawyer for one of the officers stated that the matter ‘should not be before the courts’ at all, claiming that the inmate instigated the incident.
He declared that: ‘It’s terrible when a prison warder is carrying out his duties to have them hounded like this”, saying that his client should not have been suspended at all.
While it is true that prison officers can be at risk of attack from inmates, unfortunately it is sometimes the other way around.
Reports of attacks and corruption by prison staff are not uncommon in correctional centres- indeed, instances of violence against inmates and the smuggling of drugs are well-documented.
According to one former prison officer, prison guards would often place $10 bets on the winner of punch-ups between inmates. Similar conduct has been reported in prisons throughout the world.
There are also concerns that just as inmates can become institutionalised, the same could be happening to those entrusted with the job of keeping prisons safe and orderly.
There are reports of formal training being thrown out the window, with new officers told to forget everything they learnt to obtain their formal qualifications. Guards fight “violence with violence”, according to the account of the whistleblower.
Unfortunately, many of those who abuse their positions of authority will never be called to account for their actions.
What will happen to the four officers currently facing charges?
We will have to wait and see how the case unfolds when the men return to court next month.