Junee Prison Death

Analysis of Junee Prison Death
Coroner's Report Into Junee Prison Death

Following an inquest into the death of Keith Howlett at Junee Correctional Centre, a private prison run by GEO, Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame in her Report released on March 31, 2017 seriously criticised GEO, Corrective Services NSW and Justice Health for their poor management of prisoners’ health conditions. It amounted to callous indifference by all parties, clearly shocking the Coroner, but also frustrating her by their unpreparedness to accept responsibility and adopt her Recommendations.

 The Coroner’s report highlights just one of the many serious issues with private prisons and condemns the way Mr Howlett’s health conditions were managed during his time in prison.

Overall, the Coroner condemned the callous actions of Justice Health, the GEO and the Commissioner of Corrective Services for not addressing the important issue of access to adequate palliative care within prisons. Mr Howlett suffered unnecessarily due to the shortcomings of Junee, GEO, the Commissioner for Corrective Services and Justice Health.

These criticisms indicate a culture of a lack of care and reveals the need to at least transfer health services from private prison operators.  The GEO group is legally required to provide a level of health care equal to that of the public health system, and that the duty to provide this care was breached in this case.

“Mr Howlett’s last weeks were full of despair and dissatisfaction,”[1] said Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame in her scathing criticism of private prison operator GEO, during her inquest findings in March 2017 into the death of 49-year-old Keith Howlett at Junee Correctional Centre. “Mr Howlett was anxious and dispirited about his future care”[2] and “was suffering greatly in the lead up to his death,”[3] the Coroner continued.

“What is established is that the opportunity to properly assess some of his pressing needs was missed by those responsible for his care. This caused great discomfort and pain for Mr Howlett and his wife in what turned out to be the last days of his life,” stated the Coroner.[4] “I am of the view that the transfer of care for Mr Howlett from the community to the custodial setting was well below best practice,”[5] the Coroner continued, emphasising that “the breakthrough pain medication he had been prescribed in the community was not made available to him in custody.”[6]

 “The evidence established that Mr Howlett’s last days were unnecessarily uncomfortable,” said the Coroner.[7] “Mr Howlett had a potentially life threatening disease which had been treated initially in the community with curative intent”[8] and despite this “there had been no real recognition of the urgent need to screen his palliative care requirements,”[9] the Coroner stated. Howlett’s physical ailments were “inadequately controlled” and he was “without adequate mental health support”[10] in the privately run, profit driven prison.  

 “A number of recommendations were circulated at the conclusion of the inquest for comment. It is fair to say they received little support from either Justice Health, the GEO group or from the Commissioner of Corrective Services,”[11] said the Coroner. “The GEO group did not support any of the recommendations and appeared to express the view that each was largely unnecessary or did not fall within its area of responsibility,”[12] continued the Coroner, despite “the real potential to improve quality of life for a growing group of prisoners.”[13] 


[1] Inquest into the Death of Keith Howlett (Unreported, State Coroners Court, Magistrate Grahame, 31 March 2017) [44].

[2] Ibid [53].

[3] Ibid [33].

[4] Ibid [45].

[5] Ibid [24].

[6] Ibid [34].

[7] Ibid [53].

[8] Ibid [15].

[9] Ibid [53].

[10] Ibid [53].

[11] Ibid [51].

[12] Ibid [57].

[13] Ibid [52].


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