Tracey Brannigan's mother, Sandra Kelly, and partner of the deceased, Carlos D'Amico attend the inquest into her death.

Tracey Brannigan's mother, Sandra Kelly, and partner of the deceased, Carlos D'Amico attend the inquest into her death. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Drugs are "endemic in the NSW prison system" with prisoners invariably finding ways to smuggle them in, the inquest into the death of a female inmate has heard.

But the Coroners Court was also told there was little corrective services officers could have done on the night an overdose claimed the woman's life.

The comments came from counsel assisting the coronial inquiry into the death of inmate Tracey Brannigan, 42, who died in her cell from an overdose on February, 24 last year at Dillwynia Correctional Centre.

Died in custody: Tracey Brannigan.

Died in custody: Tracey Brannigan.

In his closing submissions to the inquest on Wednesday, Paul Bush told coroner Paul McMahon: "it would be fair to say that drugs are endemic in the prison system".

"A large number of people in the system suffer from drug addiction and they will find ways to bring these drugs in," he said.

But Mr Bush said that, contrary the submissions of Ms Brannigan's family, the heroin dose which claimed her life was injected during the course of the night, just a few hours before she died, leaving prison officers with little opportunity to save her.

The inquest also heard from Ms Brannigan’s mother, who described her daughter as a “bubbly, intelligent and humorous” woman who had “fallen into the wrong system and had never been able to bring herself back out”.

Ms Brannigan started smoking cannabis before moving onto heavier drugs, and eventually dealing them herself to support her addiction, the coroner was told.

Mr Bush said it was unfortunate that the inquest had been unable to determine how the drugs that Tracey took were brought in.

He asked the coroner to accept the evidence of corrective services officers, who said they had seen no sign that Ms Brannigan was drug-affected prior to lock down on the night she died.

“The drug which was the immediate cause of Tracey’s death was very recently injected.”

The lawyer representing the family in the case, Jane Leibowitz, said Corrective Services had been aware of Mr Branningan’s drug use, but had still allowed her to overdose while in their care.

She asked Coroner McMahon to make a series of recommendations, including that prisoners known to have drug problems be subject to more consistent monitoring and searches, perhaps with the assistance of a body scanner to detect drugs rather than invasive body cavity searches.

However, the lawyer representing Justice Health said that Ms Brannigan’s death was not preventable but the result of her being “overcome and overpowered by her addiction”.

“Her addiction infected and affected much of what she did and it did so to the detriment of her family her children and her friends.”