Why so many female guards are having sex in jail with prisoners: As the number of officers having illicit relationships with convicts jumps by 50%, GEORGE ODLING reveals the shocking reasons why…

Why so many female guards are having sex in jail with prisoners: As the number of officers having illicit relationships with convicts jumps by 50%, GEORGE ODLING reveals the shocking reasons why…

  • Prison officers tells George Odling why prison sex scandals have soared and explain the tricks hardened criminals use to snare young female guards in this exclusive report

When Britain’s biggest prison opened its doors in 2017, it was hailed as a £212 million model for the rehabilitation of offenders. But just seven years later, HMP Berwyn in North Wales has acquired a very different reputation — as the epicentre of a sex scandal engulfing the Prison Service.

Last year it emerged that no less than 18 women working at the Category C ‘super-prison’ for adult males, with a 2,100 capacity, had been sacked or resigned after breaking the rules on relationships with inmates.

Take the case of probationary officer Ayshea Gunn, who exchanged more than 1,200 phone calls, including explicit video calls, with prisoner Khuram Razaq. She even smuggled a pair of knickers into his cell, concealed in her bra.

In a similarly sordid tale, her fellow officer Emily Watson performed a sex act on an inmate in his cell on Christmas Day.

This sexual impropriety is far from unique to HMP Berwyn in Wrexham, which calls cells ‘rooms’, blocks ‘communities’, and allows inmates to have their own phones and laptops.

Ms Gunn in handcuffs on her way to jail after being caught in an illicit relationship with prison inmate Mr Razaq

There has been an alarming rise in the number of female officers from across the HM Prison Service found guilty of striking up illicit relationships.

Last month two female prison workers appeared at Bolton Crown Court, accused of having simultaneous relationships with the same inmate. Aleesha Bates, 30, and Jodie Wilkes, 27, exchanged thousands of messages with a prisoner in an illicit love triangle at HMP Buckley Hall, Rochdale.

Prison officer Bates was the first to start a relationship with an inmate who’d been jailed for drug trafficking offences.

She was so infatuated she sent X-rated messages and naked photos, and even planned their future together once he was released.

The second relationship, with operational support worker Wilkes, came to light in 2020 when a contraband phone containing ‘dozens’ of messages was found in the prisoner’s cell.

Both women admitted misconduct in a public office, with Bates sentenced to two years and eight months in prison and Wilkes handed a 12-month sentence, suspended for two years.

While this is not a problem exclusive to female staff in male prisons, the figures are stark. In the three years to March 2023, 31 female prison staff working in male prisons were sacked, including one who gave birth to her inmate lover’s baby and another who had his cell number tattooed on her thigh.

That’s a more than 50 per cent rise on the 19 women sacked in the previous four-year period, and that figure doesn’t include incidents recorded at private prisons, run by companies such as G4S, Serco and Sodexo.

Five men working in male prisons, and one or two women working in women’s prisons, were sacked for inappropriate relationships over the same period.

According to those who have worked in the system, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As one former prison officer, who we are calling Officer A to protect his identity, tells the Mail: ‘The numbers will be much, much higher than the figures that have emerged because these events are swept under the carpet — if a sexual relationship ever comes to light, then normally the prison officer is given the chance to resign. They don’t like this stuff to come out, it’s hugely embarrassing.’

To an outsider, it’s hard to understand what drives an officer to risk an affair with an inmate, knowing they could lose everything if they are caught. So what exactly is going on behind prison walls?

Vanessa Frake spent 27 years in the prison service, including as governor at notoriously tough men’s prison Wormwood Scrubs. She is dismayed by the latest revelations.

‘I think this has always happened in one form or another,’ she says. ‘But when you see the number of reported cases at somewhere like HMP Berwyn, you have to ask how that has happened.’

Female prison worker Jodie Wilkes, 27, exchanged thousands of messages with an inmate

Prison officer Aleesha Bates, 30, was also in a relationship with an inmate and sent him X-rated messages and naked photos

Undoubtedly, she says, changes in prison staffing procedures are a factor. For about 150 years, under the terms of the 1823 Gaol Act, women’s prisons were entirely staffed by women; men’s prisons were staffed by men.

It was only in the 1980s that cross-sex postings began to be advertised. Since then the acceleration in numbers of women entering the prison service has been steep; some 40 per cent of public sector prison staff are now said to be female.

At the same time, perceptions of working in prisons have changed, says Vanessa.

‘When I joined, I thought: ‘This is going to be my career for the next 30 years.’ Nowadays, unfortunately, the prison service isn’t seen as a career, but rather as a sort of stop gap for young people who go in for a couple of years and then flit off [to something else],’ she explains.

The minimum entry age of recruits has dropped from 21 when Vanessa joined the prison service to just 18.

‘In my opinion, that’s too young,’ she says. ‘You’ve got kids of 18 walking around with 40 to 50-year-old career criminals.’

She is not alone in raising concerns that younger, less committed recruits are more vulnerable to manipulation.

‘Previously many officers in the tough prisons were ex-Armed Forces, who had a lot of real-life experience and were not easily intimidated,’ says Officer A, who left the system seven years ago after ten years working in the north-east of England.

‘But then they [started to] hire far more people straight out of school who were keen but lacked the confidence to deal with cunning, hardened criminals.

‘If you are a 19 or 20-year-old 5ft 4in woman, you won’t have the confidence or presence to challenge these guys and they will see you as more pliable and easier to manipulate than a seasoned officer. It’s the cold hard truth.’

Another former officer, a woman we are calling Officer B, also warns junior officers are being given more responsibility: ‘I talk now to ex-colleagues who say if someone has 18 months’ experience, they might be the most experienced person on that wing, making decisions for the team. It’s crazy.’

Vanessa, author of The Governor: My Life inside Britain’s Most Notorious Prisons, says there are also failings in training, vetting procedures and a lack of mentors.

Vanessa Frake spent 27 years in the prison service, including as governor at notoriously tough men¿s prison Wormwood Scrubs

‘It’s all so frantic now. You’ve got overcrowding, staff shortages, you’ve got all these things going on and then you’ve got somebody who walks in, someone who isn’t seen as a young, vulnerable person, but as just another body, someone who is allegedly fully-fledged to walk out on a prison wing,’ she says.

Last year, Mark Fairhurst, general secretary of the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), also blamed poor training and vetting for the rise in officers succumbing to corruption. Staff are frequently recruited centrally, with interviews conducted over Zoom, he warned, making it harder for bosses to spot potential problems.

And while guards are reportedly struggling to keep inmates under control, the inmates keep a keen eye on the guards for vulnerabilities they may be able to exploit, explains Officer B.

She spent seven years working in a Category B prison and recalls: ‘To many prisoners, the sex itself isn’t the goal — it is a way of getting the officer in their pocket for other things like smuggling in tobacco, drugs or mobile phones. They know a sexual relationship or flirting is a way of hooking you — and hooking you is exactly the goal of the more cunning inmates.

‘Inexperienced officers, particularly younger women in a men’s prison, will feel like a fresh bit of meat on display.’

The prisoners’ motivations are clear. But why do officers fall for these tactics?

Some commentators have put the trend down to an unconscious compulsion to pursue unsuitable partners, repeating tired cliches about women lusting after a ‘bad boy’. Of course, there is a complex web of factors at play, which may include attraction or an urge to transgress. But in Officer B’s telling, there is often a deliberate pattern of coercion by the inmate.

‘You cannot show a single chink in your armour, or you are finished,’ she says.

‘I would warn recruits to never even speak about their personal life on the landings because prisoners would listen in and use this stuff against you.

‘It might start off with something small; they might challenge you to a game of pool and say the winner gets a Mars Bar. Of course, you can’t give them chocolate and if you do then you’ve broken the rules, and they’ve got you.

‘The squeeze will begin. The next thing is they will ask ‘can you bring this in for me’ and the whole thing escalates from there.’

Once one boundary is crossed, others quickly follow and the power dynamic shifts from officer to prisoner. ‘The key thing is the inmate has nothing to lose — they are already in prison,’ says Officer B.

‘Whereas for the prison officer, their entire life is on the line.

‘If you’ve done something wrong and the inmate has the power to ruin your life, you’ll do anything to stop that happening.’

Notably, when sentencing Bates last month, Judge Elliot Knopf accepted the prison officer had been ‘ensnared’ by her lover, saying: ‘He identified you as someone who could be approached’ but adding: ‘You did not have to accept that approach.’

As for the logistics of an illicit physical affair between a prison officer and an inmate supposedly under constant surveillance —often, it seems, it’s all too easy.

‘There are actually lots of places they could potentially have sex,’ says Officer B.

‘The cupboards, maybe, if they had someone to keep watch and give a signal if there was someone coming. Even in a cell, if they were happy to live dangerously.

‘There is a lock in there of course — we would call it ‘shooting the bolt’ when you put it on a latch.

‘And the officer could plausibly come up with an excuse, [saying] they needed to have a chat with this inmate, for example.

‘I would never go into a prisoner’s cell without another officer there, but I have known it to happen.’

Officer A, meanwhile, recalls a colleague being caught committing sexual acts with an inmate in a prison’s ‘methadone room’ — a medical room where recovering addicts would receive treatment.

‘It came to light because of a very distinctive tattoo she had above her groin, which a few colleagues knew about because she had told us, but of course no prisoners would have been aware of,’ he says.

‘Then a prisoner started talking about this tattoo — the only way they could have possibly known is if the two of them had a physical relationship.

‘She was never charged, but she was investigated and was told: ‘Resign and you can walk away, or you will be arrested’.

‘I believe she had also been smuggling drugs on behalf of this prisoner, which shows it is never just about the sex for these guys.’

While the officer in that case may, astonishingly, have escaped punishment, for others the penalty for crossing the line is steep.

On the other hand, notes Vanessa, too often manipulators behind bars are never punished for their actions.

‘The whole focus is on the woman,’ she says.

‘What gets forgotten is there are prisoners who have the one thing the rest of the nation doesn’t have, time. Time to work out who is vulnerable, who is new, who they can twist. What happens to that corrupter?’

She points out that there are already legal structures for dealing with this type of behaviour — but says they are not being used enough.

‘There is the Bribery Act of 2010 and there is also the prison disciplinary system. These prisoners can be taken to court, can be moved.

‘We need to be much more robust with these corrupters of staff as well.’


George Odling

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