Correctional Services, Deaths In Custody

23 Nov 2006 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make an explanation before asking the Minister for Correctional Services questions about deaths in custody.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The minister tabled two reports from the Department of Health and the Department for Correctional Services in response to the coronial inquiry into the death in custody of Mr Darryl Kym Walker in the Port Lincoln Prison on 2 June 2003. I will not go through all of this, because members can read it for themselves. Recommendations 14.4, 14.5 and 14.6 have been responded to by the Department of Health, which represents prison health services. Three points in relation to recommendation 14.4 indicate that no new nurses have been employed to provide additional mental health services in prisons. Recommendation 14.5 is that there be more mental health workers such as psychologists and social workers.

The response from the department indicates additional resources but, because they are in mainstream hospitals, it does not indicate whether there is any additional support in prisons. In recommendation 14.6, which is in relation to supported accommodation, especially in regional areas, again, the report from the Department of Health indicates mainstream services which do not specifically mention prison services. What actions has the minister taken, or what discussions has she had, with the Department of Health in relation to the provision of additional services, and is she satisfied with the department’s response to this death in custody?

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO (Minister for Correctional Services): Quite clearly, I tabled both responses together yesterday. I am not certain whether the honourable member who asked the question actually has the response from the minister for mental health in relation to the recommendations, but I think it is worthwhile placing them on the record.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: That is where I got them from.

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Is that where you got them from?

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: They were mainstream services.

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Okay, so you did get them from here?

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: It is what was tabled yesterday.

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: All right. Clearly, both departments work together in relation to the Department for Correctional Services. We are always continuing to make progress towards reducing deaths in custody—because no death is acceptable—in particular, by removing potential hanging points. We already have an ongoing program to eliminate hanging points in all of our prisons, and a significant proportion of the corrections capital budget in each year is spent on eliminating them. I know that we have spent about $800 000 over the past three years. I think we have had $560 000 dedicated funding from the government for the removal of hanging points from between 2003 and 2006, and approximately $240 000 has come from the Department for Correctional Services’ own capital works equipment budget.

Of course, addressing the problem is not just about the infrastructure, but also it is also about staff and supervision.

High risk assessment teams have been introduced into our prisons. Mental health first aid training is being introduced for prison staff. Any new prisons will meet nationally agreed safe cell standards.

I am certain that we are all very pleased to hear that we have a new prison precinct to be built in South Australia.

Those new cells will meet all those important standards. In addition to this, the department has established an investigation review committee that monitors the actioning of recommendations made by the department’s investigating team and the Coroner wherever there is a death in custody.

The Department for Correctional Services does not have a designated special needs unit. Prisoners designated as at risk and who are showing potential for self harm may be placed either in special management units or in prison infirmaries.

These units provide a safe environment for prisoners until such time as they can undergo any medical assessment and treatment as may be required prior to their return to the mainstream prison population. Currently, it is considered that the Department for Correctional Services practices adequately meet the needs of these at risk prisoners.

Every possible action is taken to identify and treat offenders at risk of self harm and prisoners have a risk assessment completed when they enter the prison system, they have access to medical and psychiatric help, and they can access programs designed to assist them with coping in prison. We know the procedure in this place. I think I have placed on record that, following any death in prison, the department and the police prepare individual reports, which are provided to the Coroner until he concludes his investigations, which can sometimes take as long as 12 months. As I have said, any death in custody is tragic and unacceptable, and we will continue to work to be vigilant and take all reasonable steps to prevent such occurring.