NSW: 26 deaths in custody in 10 months

May 13, 1998

On May 3, a 21-year-old man became the 26th person to die while in a NSW prison since July 1, 1997. The apparent suicide by hanging at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre was the fourth prison death in NSW in the last three weeks.

"Members of our community who are held in custody already die by suicide or violence at many times the rate of the notorious prison systems in the United States", said Jim Mellor of the Positive Justice Centre.

In 1997, NSW prison deaths increased by 75% from the previous year. According to figures compiled by CRC Justice Support, the Penal Reform Council, Positive Justice Centre and Indigenous Social Justice Association, only six of the 26 male prisoners who have died in NSW prisons since July 1 died of natural causes. Most were the result of violence or apparent suicides. Eight deaths have taken place at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre during the eight months the centre has been fully operational. Of those, six were by hanging and two were suspected murders.

A significant proportion of the 26 deaths were unconvicted remand prisoners who were awaiting trial. "It is of vital importance to note that remand prisoners are not yet even convicted of an offence", says Dr Eileen Baldry of the Penal Reform Council. "Remandees are significantly over-represented in prisons; they are also the most vulnerable prisoners. About half will be either found not guilty at trial or will serve alternative sentences. They shouldn't be in jail and they certainly shouldn't die there."

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