As the story unfolds, a woman inmate at a Sydney detention center, coerced into silence after sexual exploitation by a prison officer, has recounted her ordeal at a special commission of inquiry into the offender’s behaviour, overseen by former judge Peter McClellan KC.
Former prison officer Wayne Gregory Astill, convicted of 34 counts last year that ranged from aggravated sexual assault to indecent assault, was handed a 23-year sentence. Multiple women at the Dillwynia Correctional Centre in northwestern Sydney fell prey to Astill during his tenure as a jail official.
According to Trudy Sheiles, who was held at Dillwynia from November 2015, there was rampant fear of Astill, a man known for his inappropriateness. Sheiles stated Astill would frequently summon her from her cell. The purpose, as she later discovered, was for him to sexually abuse her in his office.
Sheiles also revealed Astill was nicknamed “Teflon Sam”, given the widespread perception of invincibility around him. She testified that threats from Astill had kept her silent. According to Sheiles, Astill warned her of retaliation and further violence if she reported his behavior.
Due to these threats and the belief that all her communications were monitored, Sheiles battled with her fear to disclose the incidents. She perceived the jail to be divided between prisoners and guards and didn’t trust any prison official.
It was only after her release from the prison system that Sheiles came forward, spurred by a conscientious guard she refers to as her ‘guardian angel’.
A key aspect of the inquiry includes not just the horrific incidents, but also the process and oversight that failed to prevent them. It is looking into whether any other personnel of the Corrective Services in New South Wales had a suspicion of the incidents, the suitable systems of oversight, and what can be done to improve these mechanisms in the future.
In an institutional apology to the victims of Astill’s depravity, the Commissioner of Corrective Services expressed deep regret and a commitment to make amendments. The inquiry is crucial to ensure a recurrence is avoided and to build public confidence in the capabilities of the New South Wales Corrective Services in rehabilitating individuals and maintaining safer communities.
The apology extended to the survivors of Astill’s abuse emphasized their entitlement to protection and care, a duty which the prison had grossly failed to deliver upon. Armed with lessons from the tragedy, Correctives Services vowed to become a safer place where inmates can feel secure and confident in their protection.