Coroner’s inquest into Casuarina prison suicides identifies ‘critical shortfalls’ in mental health services

Greens spokesperson for corrective services Hon Alison Xamon MLC has repeated her call for the Minister for Corrective Services to address understaffing of prison counselling and mental health services following the coroner’s release of findings into the inquest of five suicides at Casuarina prison.  

“The coroner identified ‘critical shortfalls’ in these essential mental health services, and recommended the Department of Justice take ‘urgent steps’ to recruit more staff,” said Ms Xamon.

“The coroner’s findings of course come as no surprise. We have known about the serious gaps in this space for a long time, and only yesterday the issue was again brought to the fore with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s release of its Health of Australia’s prisoners 2018 report.”

The Coroner also identified the significant pressure on resources at Casuarina prison as a result of increasing prisoner numbers.

Ms Xamon’s questions in parliament last year revealed that while the prison population had increased by 37% since 2011-12, psychological staff numbers had risen just 7%.

“The Coroner’s report shows the tragic personal consequences of this understaffing. These men paid the ultimate price for the lack of services available in prison,” said Ms Xamon.

The Coroner also raised concerns about the management of prisoners at risk of suicide or self-harm who are placed into conditions akin to solitary confinement – on their own with limited time out of their cells or interaction with other prisoners.

“Unsurprisingly, prisoners - particularly those with significant mental health issues - do not do well in this environment,” said Ms Xamon. “The Department must look at introducing trauma informed care principles into the management of prisoners at Casuarina as recommended by the Coroner.”

Ms Xamon said it was essential the Coroner’s recommendations, which also included work to increase the number of ligature-minimised cells, more comprehensive suicide prevention training for relevant staff and regular refresher training, were addressed.

“Custodial staff face significant challenges working with a prison population experiencing significant and challenging mental health and substance abuse issues. It is essential for both their own safety, and for that of prisoners, that they are adequately trained and resourced”. 

picture of prison cell