A prison nurse from Nowra who smuggled empty medication boxes into a NSW jail has had her registration cancelled, after a tribunal found she knew inmates planned to use them to conceal contraband.
Melanie Alice Ross, a mental health nurse who worked casual shifts at Goulburn Correctional Centre, Shoalhaven District Memorial Hospital and Shellharbour Hospital, was arrested in 2015 after a senior corrective officer saw her handing what appeared to be packs of medication to an inmate through the gate of the activities yard.
After she left, a group of inmates came over and peered into a bag she left with the prisoner.
"Something just occurred and it doesn't seem right," the officer reported to her superintendent.
The prisoner was later discovered with two mobile phones and a USB charger cable down his pants, and a raid on his cell yielded a pair of earphones and a pack of antibiotics.
Meanwhile, police searched Ms Ross' home and found several packs of restricted medications, including antibiotics and stress relieving drugs.
She later confessed to giving the prisoner empty boxes of medication, and pleaded guilty in Goulburn Local Court to the possession of prescribed restricted substances. She was sentenced to seven months' imprisonment to be served by way of an intensive corrections order in the community and fined $1500.
A prison nurse was found to have smuggled items into Goulburn Correctional Centre. Photo: Janie Barrett
But she told the NSW Nursing and Midwifery Council that she had never smuggled drugs into the prison, only empty boxes of medication after months of harassment.
She said the family members of an inmate had followed her into the jail and threatened to harm her and her family unless she complied with their demands.
The inmates contacted her on multiple occasions with various schemes to conceal contraband that unnamed corrective services officers had smuggled into the prison for them.
The mobile phones, she said, had nothing to do with her. The drugs were merely "odds and ends" that she had accidentally taken home in the pockets of her scrubs after a busy 12 hour shift at Shoalhaven emergency department.
The inmate initially told police that the mobile phones were not his and that he had "found" them, but later changed his story to allege that Ms Ross had given them to him. However, Ms Ross denied this and police withdrew charges for mobile phone trafficking.
The Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) applied to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal to have Ms Ross struck off, alleging that her criminal conviction alone justified the cancellation of her registration and that other elements of her behaviour amounted to unsatisfactory professional conduct.
The tribunal ruled last week that it was satisfied Ms Ross had supplied the prisoner with two empty medication boxes, engaged in text messages and phone calls with him without a professional reason for doing so and "more than likely" supplied him with the antibiotic. But it could not be satisfied on the evidence that she smuggled him a mobile phone.
"The tribunal is satisfied that in providing the boxes, Ms Ross knew it was for the purpose of facilitating movement of contraband," the judgment said.
It cancelled her registration for at least 12 months, issued a formal reprimand and ordered her to pay the HCCC's costs.