Australia: Aboriginal man dies in Casuarina Prison as hundreds rally around WA to protest deaths in custody
by Powell, ABC News, Oct 23, 2014
A 31-year-old Aboriginal man has died in a Perth prison, as hundreds rally around the state to protest Aboriginal deaths in custody.
It is the second death in custody in WA in three months.
Protesters rallied in Perth, South Hedland and Geraldton to demand answers over the death of a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman in police custody in August.
Ms Dhu, 22, died after being locked up in the South Hedland Police Station over unpaid fines.
She complained of pain while being held in a police lock-up and was twice taken to the Hedland Health Campus before being released and returned to custody.
In a letter obtained by the ABC, the district medical officer said on a third visit Ms Dhu arrived unconscious, without a pulse, and not breathing.
An internal police investigation is underway into Ms Dhu’s death and a report is being prepared for the Coroner, but today the calls continue for an independent inquiry as well as strategies to help avoid deaths in custody.
WA Premier Colin Barnett was booed and heckled by several hundred people outside State Parliament.
Mr Barnett told the crowd he would personally take on the task of trying to reduce the number of Aboriginal people dying in custody.
Ms Dhu’s mother broke down in tears as she addressed the protesters, saying she needed answers as to why her daughter died.
She said she did not understand why her daughter went to the lock up and never returned.
The Premier said a police investigation into the death would be finalised in the next few days and all details would be released to her family.
Charmaine Green, who attended the rally in Geraldton, said she is calling for a royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.
“Sadly overnight we’ve had another death in custody. We’ve had a 31-year-old man die in the Casuarina prison,” Ms Green said.
“This is the second death of custody in the last three months. It’s totally not acceptable.”
Ms Dhu’s aunty, Vanessa Brockman, says it is critical a timely coronial inquest is conducted into her niece’s death.
“Everybody seems to forget that the hospital and the Department of Justice are responsible for what happened,” Ms Brockman said.
“She was taken to the hospital three times, three times, and they sent her home.
“She was sent back to the lock-up and declared fit to be kept in custody.
“If she was fine she’d be standing here today.
“They breached their duty of care, they’ve done it now and they’ll do it again.”
There is something terribly wrong with our system, particularly in relation to prisons, but also in police custody.
“It is with deep regret that I confirm the death of a 31-year-old Aboriginal prisoner in custody,” Commissioner James McMahon said.
“The man was found unresponsive in his cell at Casuarina Prison during a routine check by prison officers at around 9.30pm last night.
“The prison officers immediately carried out CPR. Ambulance officers called to the prison were also unable to revive him.
“The Department has a duty of care to protect prisoners and offenders from harm or injury.
“The loss of a life in custody or in the community is tragic. I offer my sincere condolences to the man’s family and friends in their grief.”
Mr McMahon said a coronial inquest would be held to determine the circumstances and cause of death.
Deaths in Watch Committee wants answers
Head of the Deaths in Watch Committee Marc Newhouse said people want answers.
“It’s devastating and this tells us and the Government knows this – that there is something terribly wrong with our system, particularly in relation to prisons, but also in police custody,” Mr Newhouse said.
“Our condolences go out to the family of the person who is deceased.”
Mr Newhouse said he was told the prisoner had taken his own life.
“The Royal Commission [into deaths in custody two decades ago] made recommendations around removal of all ligature points in prisons and police lock ups. Clearly that has not occurred in this case,” he said.
“This is appalling and needs to be addressed immediately.
“We don’t have any detail, but we are very, very concerned and we are going to get to the bottom of this. The Government needs to act.
“Today at Parliament we’ll be presenting immediate demands about what needs to change so that these sorts of deaths in custody end.”
Mr Newhouse said one of the main problems with Aboriginal deaths in custody related to visitation rights from family of the inmate.
“The Aboriginal visitor scheme is in complete disarray and it has been raised in parliamentary inquiries by us and others,” he said.
“The Aboriginal visitors scheme has the potential to prevent these sorts of deaths and that is the very reason it was set up, but it’s in complete disarray.
“I think the problem is that is comes under the Department of Corrective Services and that needs to change. It needs to be under an independent body.”