Tracy Brannigan died in prison on Monday 25 February 2013. She should never have been isolated from her friends’ support by being placed in a ‘high needs’ cell when she was clearly under the influence of drugs. Had proper services been provided, such as drug rehabilitation, intervention, dry cell and sufficient monitoring, Tracy would still be alive today. She should have been able to use her time in prison effectively, but instead she was left frustrated without access to education and a computer. The inquest into Tracy’s death failed as it lacked the legal support prepared to investigate and expose these issues and link them to similar past cases.
The Tracy Brannigan Action Plan
The Tracy Brannigan Action Plan (download here) is an important document that details the circumstances surrounding the death of a valued individual in a failing prison system, and proposes a strategy to ensure that avoidable tragedies such as Tracy’s death do not happen again.
Overview of the Action Plan
Tracy’s case highlights the unfortunate condition of women in prisons, bringing to the forefront key problems faced by women in prison. They include:
- a lack of concern for their wellbeing and safety,
- a lack of access to educational materials,
- a disregard for their needs in relation to seeing family and children, and
- a recurrence of deaths in custody
The issues highlighted are apparent and need to be addressed. Authorities held the formal inquest into the circumstances of her death poorly, with no regard for the value and dignity of her life as a contributing member of society. The Coroner ignored vital evidence and refused to make findings in favour of recommendations that would greatly alleviate the concerns faced by incarcerated women. We now look to the Corrective Services of NSW (CSNSW) for an answer to our proposals.
These are our proposals:
- The creation of a ‘Deaths in Custody Information Centre’ to accumulate and assist in implementing the best practices derived from Coronial Recommendations acquired from previous deaths and Coronial Reports.
- CSNSW and Justice Health must create a culture in which their employees respect the human rights of prisoners. This should be reflected in open and accessible policies and protocols that reflect their special responsibilities in holding prisoners in their total control, away from the support of their family and community.
- A strict approach to holding health and prison authorities to a high legal duty of care that reflects the vulnerability of prisoners under the absolute control and responsibility of the State. Also that the staff personally have that same responsibility, so that there will be a rise to findings of civil liability and compensation payment to families that will ensure those obligations are respected in the future.
- The provision of responsive legal aid for families at inquests, to examine witnesses and use the ‘Deaths in Custody Information Centre’ to enforce effective policies and implement lessons that will prevent future deaths.
- The implementation of ‘peer support’ programs similar to those successfully implemented in Scotland to give social support to at risk prisoners.
- A review of current drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, guaranteeing access to them as of right, including harm minimisation programs.
- Guaranteed access to education along with the implementation of computers in cells, where prisoners spend most of their time.
- A review of the monitoring systems including surveillance cameras in place for at risk prisoners.
- Terminating the use of isolation as a punishment in prison, especially in the case of ‘at-risk’ prisoners. Although it is an easy management tool for administrators, it deprives prisoners of access to positive stimulation and support systems.
- A review of punishment sanctions when prisoners breach prison rules, to ensure they aren’t destructive but offer positive direction.
We intend to follow through on these issues and bring about meaningful change that will better the lives of all Australian prisoners.