The grief is still raw for Connie Moses-Penny as she remembers her 19-year-old son Stanley, and particularly his love of painting.
- A new Human Rights Watch report on Aboriginal deaths in custody highlights a lack of mental health services
- The report finds more than a third of people who died in WA prisons between 2010 and 2020 did not receive adequate support for mental health
- The family of one Indigenous man who died in custody says the problem has gone on too long
His colourful artworks hang on the walls of her home in Perth, but underneath them stand a row of sympathy cards.
“It’s still a big shock,” Ms Moses-Penny told 7.30.
“It’s hard to believe, just so hard.
“I encouraged him to draw, paint, yeah, cause I knew that’s what he loved.”
Stanley, a Noongar man, died after a self-harm incident in Acacia Prison, east of Perth, on July 11.
7.30 is not using Stanley’s full name at the request of the family due to cultural reasons.
Stanley was sentenced to two years’ jail for burglary related offences earlier this year.
It was his first time in an adult prison and with parole, he could have been released in six months.
“When it comes to Stanley, it’s a humanity thing,” his sister, Jacinta Miller said.
“He was struggling, emotionally and physically. There were physical signs on his body and they just ignored it. They had a duty of care.”
Ms Miller said the staff at Acacia Prison should have done more to help her brother, who struggled with depression and anxiety.
She claimed concerns raised by her and others about Stanley’s condition in the week leading up to his death, were ignored.
“I struggle with that, that whole week, his voice in my head,” she said.
Serco, the company which runs Acacia Prison, declined an interview but in a statement said it was “deeply sorry” for Stanley’s death and “will continue to support the family and community in any way we can”.
Serco said it was unable to answer specific questions about Stanley’s case as it is subject to a coronial inquest.
Human Rights Watch says prisons are ‘deadly and dangerous’
Since the beginning of 2020, there have been three suspected suicides in Western Australia’s prisons.
A new Human Rights Watch report found prisons in Western Australia are “deadly and dangerous” places for people with psycho-social disabilities.
“To address deaths in custody, we need adequate mental health support services in prison,” Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said.
“They are entirely inadequate right now.”
In the report, “He’s Never Coming Back”: People with Disabilities Dying in Western Australia’s Prisons, Human Rights Watch analyses coroners’ inquest reports between 2010 and 2020.
It found about 60 per cent of people who died in prisons in Western Australia had a disability, with many dying “as a result of lack of support provided by the prison, suicide, and violence”.
Half of the deaths were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners with disabilities.
“Many of these deaths are clearly preventable,” Ms Pearson said.
Human Rights Watch uses the term psycho-social disability to describe people with mental health conditions such as depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and catatonia.
Industry figure says findings are ‘absolutely horrific’
In each of the eight cases that Human Rights Watch investigated, the organisation alleges corrective services failed to adequately recognise or address the risk, provide sufficient and timely support and, in some cases, placed individuals in conditions amounting to solitary confinement that increased the likelihood of self-harm and suicide.
Hannah McGlade, an associate professor at Curtin University who researches Indigenous human rights and is a member of the United Nations permanent forum on Indigenous issues, said the findings were a “damning indictment” on Australia.
“These are serious human rights issues. This is about Aboriginal people’s lives,” she said.
“We cannot afford to continue on this path.
“People with disabilities are not receiving adequate support — we’ve known this for a long time.”
Megan Krakouer, director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, agreed.
“What we’ve experienced since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody since 1991, there’ve been 441 deaths across the nation, in Western Australia, 110,” she said.
“That is absolutely horrific.
“That’s impacting on too many of our families.
“There’s a lot of sadness, a lot of vulnerabilities, there’s a lot of heartache and our people aren’t being listened to.”
WA Government acknowledges there is ‘still more to do’
In response to the recent deaths, the WA Justice Department has set up a task force, led by Corrective Services commissioner Tony Hassall, to examine at-risk prisoners.
“Obviously you want to extend your condolences to the family of anybody that died in our care,” Mr Hassall said, responding to Stanley’s death.
“We’ve actually done a tremendous amount of work over the last three years in this space, in terms of our mental health response.
“We’re about to open up a new drug treatment prison for men in October, we’ve got a new specialist mental health unit being built.
“But I don’t shy away from the challenge, there’s still more to do.”
Mr Hassall did not agree with Human Rights Watch’s assessment that WA prisons are deadly and dangerous places for people with mental health issues and said prisons are full of people with complex needs.
“We have people in prison that are unwell and we have people in prison that are violent, and we have to manage all that,” Mr Hassall said.
“Trained staff, the services that we provide are all in place to make the system safe.
“Will there be events? Yes, of course there will be. That’s just the nature of any prison system.”
A spokesperson for Corrective Services Minister Francis Logan said: “the apparently self-inflicted death of any prisoner is a tragic event and will be thoroughly investigated by the state’s coroner”.
“The minister will consider Human Rights Watch’s claims in relation to existing initiatives and investments currently underway to improve mental health management since the McGowan Government took office in 2017.”
Family asks ‘when is it going to stop?’
Stanley’s family are awaiting the coronial inquest process to have their questions answered about his case.
“We’re just sick of our men dying in prison, our youth, our kids,” Ms Moses-Penny said.
“It’s not right.
“When is it going to stop? Over 400 deaths in custody and not one has been accounted for.”