By Rosemary Desmond
CLEAN syringes should be available to Queensland prisoners, given the inability of Corrective Services to keep drugs out of the system, the state coroner says. Speaking during an inquest into the death of a prisoner by overdose, Michael Barnes noted that the inmate also had hepatitis C, and the availability of clean syringes would at least help to control the spread of viral diseases.
Darren Michael Fitzgerald was found dead around 2am (AEST) on June 13, 2004, at the Woodford Correctional Centre, two days after a contact visit from his girlfriend.
He was serving a life sentence for murder.
Prison officers conducting a routine head count of the unit in which Fitzgerald was housed noticed him slumped at his desk.
A nurse was called and she and the correctional officers entered the cell and found him dead.
The officers saw an orange syringe cap lying on the desk close to where Fitzgerald's head had been and a small syringe and a needle on the floor under the desk.
Mr Barnes said an autopsy found Fitzgerald was found to be suffering from Hepatitis C and that he had a total morphine level at the high end of the fatal range, and that he had ingested heroin within 12 hours of death.
Delivering his findings in Brisbane Magistrates Court today, Mr Barnes said he did not believe any other prisoner or prison officer directly contributed to the death.
"I am satisfied that Mr Fitzgerald accidentally caused his own death by unintentionally injecting more heroin than his body could effectively metabolise," he said.
Mr Barnes said Fitzgerald had a history of drug abuse in prison and had returned positive drug tests on urine samples on 15 occasions.
There was no compelling reason why the Department of Corrective Services should not issue clean syringes to prisoners, he said.
"In view of the inability of the Department of Corrective Services to keep prisons drug-free, and in recognition of its obligation to minimise the spread of blood-borne viruses among the prison population and those prisoners will come in contact with after release, I recommend that prisoners be given access to clean syringes," Mr Barnes said.
He said evidence at the inquest indicated illicit drug abuse remains a significant problem at the Woodford jail and throughout Queensland jails generally although there had been an improvement in the past 10 years.
In other findings today, Mr Barnes recommended hanging points be removed from all prison cells after Leon Mark Carroll was found on December 1, 2003 by prison staff hanging in the cell in the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre near Brisbane.
He had used a white piece of cloth fashioned into a noose with the other end tied around bars in the louvre windows above the bunk.
It was noticed that Carroll had rolled up towels and clothing on his bed under the blanket fashioned in a manner to make it appear that someone was sleeping in the bed.
A suicide note was found nearby.
Although he had been assessed on entering the prison as "high risk", it raised the question of why the assessment was later reversed.
Mr Barnes said the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody had recommended hanging points be eliminated from watch houses and prison cells.
"The state government accepted that recommendation and committed to implementing it," Mr Barnes said.
"Obviously this had not occurred at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre at the time of Mr Carroll's death."
"I recommend that as a matter of urgency the Department of Corrective Services cause the cells at the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre to be modified to remove hanging points."
Source: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,21085820-1702,00.html. January 19, 2007 07:15pm. Article from: AAP