Urgent action needed to avoid further deaths in custody
A deaths in custody inquest in Tasmania has found that government inaction, poor management and badly trained staff were responsible for the deaths of five Risdon prisoners between August 1999 and January 2000. In a 221-page report on the Risdon Prison deaths, Coroner Shan Tennent said that four of the five deaths investigated by the inquest could have been avoided if successive governments had not ignored other coronial inquest recommendations for nearly a decade. Four of the prisoners — Chris Douglas, 18; Thomas Holmes, 29; Jack Newman, 57; and Fabian Long, 21 died from hanging and Laurence Santos, 20, may have died from an overdose of a prescribed anti-psychotic drug. Two of the prisoners were mental health detainees but all five had some mental problems. The State Opposition, community groups and family members joined in a call for a speedy action to reform Tasmania's prison system. The mother of one of the dead inmates labelled the prison system as "outdated, Dickensian and lethal". "They are window-dressing a system that is under-resourced and punitive", commented Tasmanian Council of Social Services director Lis de Vries. Mr Groom, Opposition justice spokesperson said that the government must act urgently and make an immediate announcement of a new Tasmanian prison. "Pending the prison construction, suspension points must be removed from cells, the psychiatric services overhauled and staff better trained", said Mr Groom. "The deprivation of liberty and associated protection of the wider society do not sanction such fundamental neglect of the well-being and protection of prisoners. Most, if not all, of the five deaths which (the Coroner) inquired into could have been avoided if the Government had taken the necessary measures", commented Mr Johnson, Hobart Community Legal Service manager. An investigation will be held into whether any criminal charges should be laid. The inquest heard that Mr Jager had had clashed with staff and threatened one detainee with a large syringe. The Coroner found that Dr Jager did not have adequate training, both as a manager and psychiatrist. He held the position of clinical director at the prison. A complaint against Dr Jager was made to the Medical Council of Tasmania.