Drugs problem ‘endemic’ in prison system: Coroner

The NSW Coroner’s Court has found today that the ‘availability of illicit substances in correctional facilities is an endemic problem’. This was a crucial finding in a coronial inquest into the tragic death of a 41-year-old woman who died of a heroin overdose in prison last year.

Tracy-Lee Brannigan died in Dillwynia Correctional Centre in February 2013, just three months before she was eligible to be released. The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) represented the family of Ms Brannigan at an inquest into her death.

Ms Brannigan died during the almost 17-hour lock-in period in a ‘high needs’ cell. The Court heard prisoners are routinely left in these cells without monitoring from 3.30pm until 8.15am each day. Ms Brannigan’s body was found by her cellmate at 5am on 25 February 2013.

‘The Coroner’s Court found that Ms Brannigan’s serious drug addiction was well known to staff at the correctional centre – she had overdosed in custody at least three times prior to her fatal overdose,’ said Jane Leibowitz, PIAC Senior Solicitor.

Deputy State Coroner MacMahon recommended that ‘random searches of cells at, or shortly after, the afternoon lockdown’ be considered, especially for ‘cells occupied by inmates that are known, or reasonably suspected, to be users of illicit substances whilst in custody.’

‘If implemented by the NSW Government, this recommendation will help to ensure that others do not suffer the same fate as Ms Brannigan,’ said Edward Santow, PIAC’s CEO.

‘The Court accepted that Ms Brannigan did not try to kill herself, and that prison authorities did not monitor her cell for almost 17 hours, despite the fact that she was known to be at high risk because of her history of drug taking,’ Mr Santow said.

‘Ms Brannigan had a well-known history of drug taking. As a community, we need to do better to stem the flow of drugs into prison. We also need to do better to protect those at greatest risk of overdosing in prison.’

MEDIA CONTACT: PIAC CEO, Edward Santow (mobile: 0434 353096). For more information about PIAC, visit www.piac.asn.au.

Photo: Flickr

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