Queensland’s state coroner has called on the government to publish updates on its strategy to make prison cells safer for people at risk of self-harm.
Coroner Terry Ryan made the recommendation to the Queensland government in inquest findings into the death of a man who died by suicide in prison in 2019.
It has been over five years since the publication of the 2015 government response to earlier coronial recommendations for the removal of “hanging points” in Queensland correctional centres, Mr Ryan said in the findings published on Monday.
“While I accept that government budgets are limited and the refurbishment of cells with hanging points is an expensive process, it is now 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended that hanging points in prisons and police cells be screened,” he added.
Mr Ryan’s recommendation was made in a report on the findings of an inquest into the non-suspicious death of a 43-year-old man in March 2019 at Brisbane’s Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre.
The man was found to have been under stress prior to his death, but “did not display any concerning behaviour”.
He had been housed in units referred to as “old stock”, rather than new units with cells that have a safer design.
These include the enclosure of window openings and the installation of special taps, showers and light fittings.
The number of safer cells in prisons had been increased since another coroner recommended in 2011 and 2012 the government should investigate eliminating the presence of hanging points.
A total of 650 cells in Queensland were still to be modified, according to the government’s most recent response to that recommendation in October 2015.
The recent inquest heard there were still 340 old stock cells in the state’s prisons, the inquest findings state.
“The implementation of safer cells had to be considered in the context of competing budgetary priorities for Queensland Correctional Services and the fact that prisons are operating well above capacity,” the inquest was told.
Mr Ryan said the recommendation to refurbish cells had been accepted by successive governments since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 30 years ago.
Noting that it was over five years since the 2015 response to recommendations in 2011 and 2012, Mr Ryan recommended the government “publish annual updates detailing its strategy for the implementation of safer cells and progress against that strategy”.
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