Distraught father Matt Hogan is seeking answers over the death of his son at Junee prison in February, saying he has met with a wall of silence from authorities.
Mr Hogan is devastated and haunted by questions about the death of his son Jonathon Hogan, 23, a young Aboriginal man from Canberra.
The last time he saw Jonathon was in July last year, before he was arrested that month on property offences. Jonathon harmed himself in police custody almost immediately after his arrest, and was taken to the mental health unit at Canberra Hospital where he absconded. He was caught in NSW a few days later and taken to Junee where he was held on remand for more than six months, due to face court on February 5. On February 3, he was found dead by hanging in his cell.
Mr Hogan said his son died about 6pm and he was told after 2am the next morning when the police came to his door.
He said his son, the fifth of 10 children, ran into trouble in his teens when he starting taking drugs and committing burglaries. He ended up at the Bimberi youth detention centre at 17 and later at the adult jail.
Last year was not the first time Jonathon had absconded. His father said he had self-harmed in the Canberra jail on a previous occasion and been taken to Canberra Hospital where he had escaped, the same pattern as last year.
Mr Hogan is in tears when he expresses over and again his disbelief that Jonathon, who he said had been diagnosed with major mental health issues, could have been held in a cell where hanging was even possible. He doesn't believe his son was getting drug and alcohol help at Junee because he was still on remand when he died and not eligible to enter a program until after his sentencing.
"Why was there something in the jail he could hang himself from? He's got mental health issues," Mr Hogan asks, having asked the same question of NSW authorities to no avail.
Mr Hogan doesn't understand why security is so inadequate when prisoners are taken to Canberra Hospital's mental health unit that they can escape – in Jonathon's case twice. He doesn't understand why authorities cited privacy when he tried to ask about his son when he was at Junee.
Mr Hogan remembers his son, who has five children of his own, the youngest just three months, as "a fun loving kid" who loved loved his family.
"He would have pulled through," Jonathon's dad says, having decided to speak out to try to change the treatment of Aboriginal people in custody.
"It's been going on and on for years and years," he says. "It's got to stop."
The Junee Correctional Centre is privately run by the GEO Group, a multi-national company that operates prisons in Australia, South Africa and the United States.
At least three separate inquests as far back as 2007 have made recommendations related to the removal of hanging points in prisons run by the GEO Group in Queensland and NSW.
The removal of prison cell hanging points was one of the key recommendations made by the historic Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.
The GEO Group referred all questions about Jonathon Hogan's death at Junee prison to Corrective Services NSW.
"One of our major strategies to reduce deaths from unnatural causes includes the audit and removal of obvious hanging points in correctional centres and court cells that accommodate inmates who are at risk of self-harm or suicide," a corrections spokeswoman said.
Asked whether Jonathon had received mental health treatment at Junee prison, whether Junee prison had sought his medical files from ACT authorities, and whether they were aware of his history of self-harm, NSW authorities said, "Justice Health and Forensic Mental Network extends its sincere condolences to Mr Hogan's family, however it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of this case while it is the subject of investigation by the NSW Coroner's Court."
The NSW police force is investigating Jonathon's death and will prepare a report for the NSW Coroner ahead of a public inquest.
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