Duty of Care

Australian police and correctional services have a duty of care to all prisoners. This duty of care must ensure the safety of all prisoners, by ensuring their physical and mental health needs are met in a swift and effective manner to prevent harm to the individual or others. Tragic and preventable deaths in custody show the continuous failure of these services to effectively realise their duty of care. By highlighting cases where duty of care was not realised, Justice Action is pushing for accountability and change within correctional services. 

Miriam Merten was a mental health patient at Lismore Base Hospital. She died on June 3rd 2014, due to injuries she sustained during her time in seclusion. She suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling more than 20 times whilst in the care of NSW Health Staff. Her death was due to a failure of duty of care, and could have been avoided. 

Tracy Brannigan died of a suspected drug overdose in 2013 at the Dillwynia Correctional Centre. During her sentence, correctional service officers were aware of her drug use, yet placed her in an unsupervised ‘high needs’ cell with another known drug user and isolated her from the support of her friends and family. Tracy’s death could have been avoided if effective duty of care had been given. 

Frank Townsend was murdered by his cellmate, John Walsh, in January 2017 at the Long Bay Correctional Centre. According to a psychologist at the Lithgow Correctional Centre, Mr Walsh is a “serious threat” to any cellmate he may be placed with, and it was recorded on his file that he should remain in a single cell. Even further, Walsh himself claimed that if he were placed with a cellmate, he would “kill him or be killed by him”. Mr Townsend’s death could have been easily avoided if the Correctional Centre placed Mr Walsh in a single cell, and not forced him to reside with a cellmate. 

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