Prison culture in review in Wayne Astill inquiry

Troubling revelations have emerged about a substandard oversight and reporting culture at a NSW correctional facility that may have allowed prison officer Wayne Astill to prey on female inmates for several years.

Astill sexually assaulted several women while working as an officer and then as chief at Dillwynia Correctional Centre near Windsor, NSW, from 2009 to 2019.

He was sentenced to 23 years in jail this year and the NSW government has launched a special inquiry, led by Peter McClellan AM KC, drilling into how Astill committed his brutal offences over an extended period of time without capture.

Assistant Commissioner for Custodial Metro John Buckley, testifying before the inquiry on Friday, acknowledged under questioning from Mr McClellan that a dramatic power imbalance existed in prison between inmates and guards and inmates would need to show “courage” to report an officer.

He said processes and reporting avenues were in place to take inmate complaints to the centre’s police unit but added prisoners might not be aware of them.

The inquiry heard management at the centre was “compromised” because Astill was popular with leadership.

“How can the prisoner be assured that in making a report, their position won’t be compromised, and their welfare will be protected, if the perpetrator is in good stock with the governor and other senior officers in the jail, what do you do?” Mr McClellan asked.

“All I can say is that hopefully other staff of the same level or equivalent levels would have the courage to take a different path and get involved,” Mr Buckley replied.

“What should have been done differently to enable reporting to occur and for the offending to have been stopped at an early stage?” Mr McClellan asked.

“I think inmates need to feel respected by the department, by the management and the staff that are there,” Mr Buckley said.

“They need to feel that if there is something going wrong, that they do have the confidence to come forward.

“We may need to come up with another avenue for how they can do a report in confidence.”

“It is certainly something that needs to be done in the future.”

Mr McClellan asked whether an anonymous reporting mechanism outside of the prison would be beneficial and Mr Buckley replied: “That would certainly be a good idea”.

Mr McClellan asked if inmates were currently aware of the reporting mechanisms in place and the measures that would be taken to protect their welfare if they lodged a complaint.

Mr Buckley replied: “It appears not.”

The inquiry, which has the power of a Royal Commission to compel witnesses and seek evidence, will hold further public hearings from October 17 with a report to the government expected on December 15.

The inquiry’s terms of reference include whether any other employee of Corrective Services NSW had knowledge or suspicion of the offending and what steps they took, the systems of supervision and oversight that applied to Wayne Astill, the adequacy of oversight mechanisms and how they should be improved, whether any matters arising from the inquiry should be referred to law enforcement or other agencies and whether the circumstances of Astill’s offending and the review’s findings require further investigation.

“Learning of Mr Astill’s crimes and the allegations made in the wake of his conviction has been deeply disturbing,” Corrections Minister Anoulack Chanthivong said.

“I want to pay tribute to the bravery of Mr Astill’s victims in coming forward.

“We owe it to the overwhelming majority of Corrective Services officers doing the right thing to ask ourselves the hard questions, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Leave a Comment