A former prison officer has been jailed for three years for having an inappropriate relationship with an inmate.
Joanne Hunter, 28, conducted the relationship with Connor Willis while working at HMP Forest Bank in Salford.
Hunter – described as ‘naive’ and ‘vulnerable’ in court – believed Willis was ‘in love’ with her and agreed to smuggle packages, including cannabis, into prison for him. She also sent him explicit photographs, which were later found on her phone.
Manchester Crown Court heard how Hunter, who has a master’s degree in Childhood and Youth studies, began working at the prison in December 2018.
In December 2020, prison authorities received information that she was taking items inside and when she was interviewed by security managers she admitted having a relationship with Willis.
Rachel Widdicombe, prosecuting, told the court how Hunter had agreed smuggle packages into the prison for Willis, one containing a juice carton and another coating a Red Bull can.
Hunter received the packages from an unnamed woman after meeting her at a Tesco supermarket, the court heard. She then smuggled them inside the prison before passing them on to another prisoner – whom she knew as a ‘big player’ and member of crime gang – for Willis. Willis offered to pay her £200-300 for each package, but she refused to take the money.
Joanne Hunter, 28, conducted the relationship with Connor Willis while working at HMP Forest Bank in Salford
Hunter – described as ‘naive’ and ‘vulnerable’ in court – believed Willis was ‘in love’ with her and agreed to smuggle packages, including cannabis, into prison for him
She also sent him explicit photographs, which were later found on her phone
Ms Widdicombe said the pair had struck up a relationship after Willis arrived at the prison in early 2019, despite her ‘not liking him at first as he was arrogant and threw his weight around’.
Hunter had admitted kissing Willis, she said, and phones seized from her showed she had rung him and sent him messages, including explicit photographs. But Hunter claimed the relationship ‘went no further’, Ms Widdicome said.
Messages from Willis to Hunter asked her for ‘burn [tobacco], weed, whizz [amphetamines]’.
And Ms Widdicombe said Hunter had been aware that she had smuggled cannabis inside the prison for him,
Prison officials said her actions had compromised prison security by leading to an increase in criminal activity, problems of discipline and a risk of violence.
Rachel Widdicombe, prosecuting, told the court how Hunter had agreed smuggle packages into the prison for Willis, one containing a juice carton and another coating a Red Bull can
Hunter, from Bury, Greater Manchester, pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office and bringing or conveying cannabis into the prison at a hearing in March.
She pleaded not guilty to bringing or conveying an unauthorised mobile phone into the prison and that charge will now lie on file.
Richard Orme, defending, said that Hunter was a ‘naive, impressionable and vulnerable young woman’.
‘She was ripe for picking for an unscrupulous criminal to take advantage of her in her first job out of education,’ he said.
‘She believed this unscrupulous individual loved her.
‘And she believed it needed to reciprocated and she needed to do what he asked.’
Mr Orme said Hunter had never had a serious relationship or boyfriend because ‘she was focused on her education’.
He described her as ‘fish out of water’ who was ‘out of her depth’ in a prison environment, adding that she was remorseful for her actions.
The judge, Recorder Paul Hodgkinson, told Hunter that she should have been an ‘asset’ to the Prison Service but ‘chose another path due to your selfish desires’.
He jailed her for three years, saying her actions had ‘struck at the heart of criminal justice system’ and discipline and order at the prison had been ‘severely undermined’, putting the public, fellow prison officers and other inmates at risk.