The Australian Greens are demanding urgent action be taken in Australia’s corrections system to address a mental health crisis and prevent further deaths in custody.
A coronial report into the death of 30-year-old First Nations man Mr Blanket, handed down by Coroner Philip Urquhart in Western Australia, has highlighted a ‘chronic shortage’ of safe cells.
Mr Blanket died in his cell at the privately run Acacia Prison in 2019, after his mental health deteriorated and he experienced multiple episodes of psychosis and self-harm.
Quotes attributable to WA Greens Senator, First Nations portfolio holder and Yamatji-Noongar woman, Dorinda Cox:
“It is simply unacceptable that someone has been able to take their life in prison because there are not enough safe cells available, particularly for those who are also vulnerable due to their mental health.
“The evidence shows there were many failings of the current system including failure to provide previous mental health assessments to Acacia’s mental health service providers, that Mr Blanket expressed suicidal ideations to prison staff, and his mother had told prison staff of his suicide risk, but wasn’t listened to.
“Red flags were missed despite Mr Blanket having a history of self-harm and attempted suicide and Mr Blanket was not moved to a safe cell in time.
“It is time for the what the coroner described as a ‘chronic shortage’ to be addressed.
“These shocking and continuing deaths are avoidable and the coroner has found that the treatment and care provided to Mr Blanket was anything but culturally appropriate.
“The continuing deaths in custody cause ongoing distress for First Nations communities and Mr Blanket’s family has been seeking answers and change so that no other family endures the pain of losing a loved one.
“I have previously called on our governments to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report handed down in 1991, I reiterate that call with what is another tragic and devastating death in custody.”
Quotes attributable to Greens Justice Spokesperson Senator David Shoebridge:
“More than 30 years since the Royal Commission we have a prison where only a tiny fraction of cells were safe cells without hanging points, that’s disgraceful.
“The coroner has found that the lack of safe cells a cause of Mr Blanket’s death, meaning the WA Government cannot dodge responsibility for this dreadfully predictable loss.
“It is deeply distressing for Mr Blanket’s family to hear how the lack of treatment programs denied him parole and left him in jail as his mental health deteriorated.
“Mr Blanket was killed by a system that refused to provide him with treatment and then locked him in a room with hanging points, a situation we have known is unsafe for decades.”
Quotes attributable to George Newhouse, Principal Solicitor of the National Justice Project:
“The coroner has made some significant recommendations however they do not go far enough and Aboriginal medical services need to provide culturally safe therapeutic health care in prisons.
“The prison system needs to listen to families who know their loved ones well; they need a voice, they need to be heard.
“The failure to allow Mr Blanket to participate in a rehabilitation program meant that he was precluded from parole which destabilised him and contributed to his mental health crisis.
“The coroner has called on the Department and Serco to address the inability of short-term prisoners to access programs that are necessary to get parole. Corporate prison operators like Serco have an economic incentive to deny programs to prisoners and keep people like Mr Blanket behind bars but that can destroy lives.”