A male correctional officer has been charged with a newly-legislated offence following an alleged inappropriate relationship with an inmate. Photographer: Adam Yip
A male correctional officer has been charged with a newly-legislated offence following an alleged inappropriate relationship with an inmate. Photographer: Adam Yip

Fears for prisoner after guard romance

A young NSW correctional officer has denied having an inappropriate relationship with an older female inmate.

But their identities cannot be revealed after his barrister successfully applied for a non-publication order in Sydney's Burwood Local Court today.

The 20-year-old man pleaded not guilty to the newly legislated offence of engaging in a relationship with an inmate causing safety risk to a correctional centre.

He was charged in October over the alleged intimate relationship with a woman who remains in custody in a western Sydney correctional facility.

"Police will allege in court that the man was involved in a romantic relationship with a 30-year-old inmate, which compromised his position as a correctional officer," NSW Police said in a statement at the time.

The man's barrister, Stephen Russell, today said their identities needed to be suppressed for the female inmate's safety.

He described her as the "complainant" throughout proceedings.

Mr Russell told the court his client, the prison officer, was no longer at the complex and had been stood down.

If found guilty, the offence carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $2200 fine.

Magistrate Lisa Stapleton asked why he had any interest in the woman's safety apart from "naturally" caring for the protection of a prisoner.

"We anticipate this particular inmate will be a witness in the proceedings," Mr Russell said, adding that they don't want any harm done to her.

He said she was serving a sentence rather than being on remand.

The magistrate asked: "How can she be regarded as unsafe if she is in custody?"

"From other inmates," Mr Russell replied.

He said matters that may be of a sexual nature could be "distressing and embarrassing" to the inmate and his client.

The prosecutor said the non-publication order was a matter for the court and made no submissions.

In imposing the order, the magistrate said Mr Russell had "simply" relied upon the general proposition that the court should be concerned for the safety of the female prisoner.

"There may be a risk of harm to that person should the information be published that reveals the allegation that she has had a personal relationship with a correctives officer," Ms Stapleton said.

"Whilst of course correctional facilities are places of great discipline and safety for offenders … there is always a risk that an opportunity could be taken so there could be physical violence or some other form of retribution imposed on the complainant because she formed a relationship with what might be called 'the other side'."

She said the restriction order needed to be made because information "about one may lead to a fairly strong (link) to the other".

Earlier today, registrar Brenda Ibbotson ordered a brief to be served by December 23.

Mr Russell asked: "Can we advance it a bit … (as) there will be nobody in chambers?"

"If it's alleged to have happened in October, police should be well advanced with the brief," Ms Ibbotson replied.

"So when do you return from leave?"

Mr Russell said "You can serve it by email, I suppose" before the registrar ordered a reply to the brief by January 20.

The 20-year-old man, flanked today by an older woman believed to be his mother, is excused from appearing on that date if he is legally represented.

His conditional bail was continued.

The new law, which encompasses sex and intimate relationships, was introduced in late 2018 and applies to staff members at public and privately operated prisons as well as community corrections staff.

"The new offence demonstrates the government's commitment to respond to community concerns about a small minority of staff who engage in inappropriate relationships with inmates and offenders on community orders," the Department of Communities and Justice states on its website.

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