ACT News

Inmate suicided after asking to see mental health team

A Canberra inmate asked to see the mental health team on the day of his death, a court has heard.

The Lyneham man – who suffered paranoid schizophrenia – was on remand at the time and being kept in the health centre of the Alexander Maconochie Centre on July 16, 2013.

The Alexander Maconochie Centre.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre. Photo: Jay Cronan

Fairfax Media has previously revealed that the 10-bed crisis support unit – designed specifically for prisoners at high risk of suicide or self-harm – was full on the night the man took his own life.

He was assessed by the mental health team but not returned to the crisis support unit, despite his risk level deteriorating.

He suicided that evening.

Guards checked his cell less than an hour before his body was found, shortly before 7pm.


Jail staff attempted to revive him without success.

It was the first suicide in Canberra jail's short history – the only other death in custody there was found to be due to natural causes.

The details of the man's death are now being probed by the ACT Coroners Court.

A directions hearing before Coroner Bernadette Boss on Friday heard the brief would be complete and ready to be served within a fortnight.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Ken Archer, told the court of the series of events leading up to the man's death.

The man was on remand on  charges that he assaulted his girlfriend in Civic and obstructed police in early June.

He was released on bail the next day, but then locked up again on June 14 after he went to her Weston home in breach of his bail conditions.

In revoking his bail, the magistrate ordered he be marked as a prisoner at risk.

His mental health issues had been noted earlier in unrelated court proceedings.

Mr Archer told the court the man's clinical condition had been assessed upon his remand, and it had been under review at the time of his death.

The lawyer told the court the man had been in and out of the CSU during his month in custody, and had been relocated to the health centre only the day before.

Mr Archer said the health centre had not been designed to accommodate those with mental illness.

The man asked to be, and was, assessed by the mental health team, but not returned to the CSU, the court heard.

Another inmate, who had been housed in the health centre, was relocated to the unit that same day.

Mr Archer said the inquest would seek to answer a number of questions about the man's death, including if the process to send him to the health centre and the regime of care had been appropriate.

"There will be examination of the use of the health units, particularly as a step-down facility," the lawyer said.

Mr Archer said the probe would also look into the architecture of the health centre, and the decision-making process about where to keep unwell patients in the jail.

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