The Guardian April 4, 2001


Urgent action needed to avoid further deaths in custody

A deaths in custody inquest in Tasmania has found that government 
inaction, poor management and badly trained staff were responsible for the 
deaths of five Risdon prisoners between August 1999 and January 2000.

In a 221-page report on the Risdon Prison deaths, Coroner Shan Tennent said 
that four of the five deaths investigated by the inquest could have been 
avoided if successive governments had not ignored other coronial inquest 
recommendations for nearly a decade.

Four of the prisoners  Chris Douglas, 18; Thomas Holmes, 29; Jack Newman, 
57; and Fabian Long, 21 died from hanging and Laurence Santos, 20, may have 
died from an overdose of a prescribed anti-psychotic drug.

Two of the prisoners were mental health detainees but all five had some 
mental problems.

The State Opposition, community groups and family members joined in a call 
for a speedy action to reform Tasmania's prison system.

The mother of one of the dead inmates labelled the prison system as 
"outdated, Dickensian and lethal".

"They are window-dressing a system that is under-resourced and punitive", 
commented Tasmanian Council of Social Services director Lis de Vries.

Mr Groom, Opposition justice spokesperson said that the government must act 
urgently and make an immediate announcement of a new Tasmanian prison.

"Pending the prison construction, suspension points must be removed from 
cells, the psychiatric services overhauled and staff better trained", said 
Mr Groom.

"The deprivation of liberty and associated protection of the wider society 
do not sanction such fundamental neglect of the well-being and protection 
of prisoners. Most, if not all, of the five deaths which (the Coroner) 
inquired into could have been avoided if the Government had taken the 
necessary measures", commented Mr Johnson, Hobart Community Legal Service 
manager.

An investigation will be held into whether any criminal charges should be 
laid.

The inquest heard that Mr Jager had had clashed with staff and threatened 
one detainee with a large syringe. The Coroner found that Dr Jager did not 
have adequate training, both as a manager and psychiatrist. He held the 
position of clinical director at the prison. A complaint against Dr Jager 
was made to the Medical Council of Tasmania.

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