Monday, November 28, 2005

Inquest into the death in custody of Scott Simpson

On the first day of the inquest into the death of a prisoner Scott Simpson, then 36, who was found hanging in his segregation cell [solitary confinement cell] at Long Bay jail in 12-wing area 2, at approximately 8.45 pm on 7 June 2004, the court heard evidence that there was a bureaucratic problem that may have led to his death.

But his family has said that he didn't deserve to die behind bars.

Penrith police had originally charged Scott Simpson with malicious damage after striking a car windscreen with a baseball bat during a domestic dispute in March 2002, which landed him in custody.

He was sent to the Silverwater Remand Centre to await trial on the malicious damage charge.

On the first day that Scott arrived at Silverwater Remand Centre he was supposed to be assessed in relation to his medical condition. He was subsequently placed in a cell on his own, in the main prison.

But about an hour later a child sex offender X, who was on protection from the main prisoners who was brought up from Junee prison, was placed in the same cell with Scott.

In the morning the prisoner on protection was found dead in the cell.

Scott was subsequently charged with murder of X and sent to the High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) at Goulburn Correctional Centre.

The HRMU is a box within a box with no fresh air or sunlight used for the treatment of the worst of the worst offenders in the prison system, including some prison scapegoats alleged to be gang members and those that buck the system. The HRMU is also now used for suspected terrorist scapegoats dragged off the street by ASIO.

Shortly after Scott was sent to the HRMU the brother of the alleged sex offender, that Scott Simpson killed Mr Y, who was also in prison at Junee jail and also a sex offender, contacted Justice action with grave fears that, "he thought he was going to be next."

"My brother was sent to his death and placed into the main," he said.

"Am I going to be next? Will they do that to me?"

He was quite fearful that his brother might have been set up by the authorities and sent to his death. [My understanding is that is in fact the case.]

He asked Justice Action how he could avoid this danger? Justice Action reminded him that reporting it was the first step and that we would make some enquiries, which we did. But as usual when making enquires with the Department of Corrective Services we didn't get very far. But at least we could keep an eye on his case if there were any more problems.

Shinning a light by asking questions can prevent some abuse by authorities.

Justice Action also received numerous letters during that time from Scott during his 26-month lockdown.

"Mum, I'm freezing and starving," he said.

He told JA that he was being hit with microwaves and that ASIO was behind it.

He sounded acutely paranoid about his situation and it appeared that he was not getting any help. It also appeared that his psychiatric illness was being exacerbated by his segregation [solitary confinement] and it is our understanding that segregation causes mental illness.

JA followed his case and found the psychiatric report that was also available to the Department of Corrective Services, suggesting that they were well aware of his mental condition as a psychiatric report was obtained by the Serious Offenders Review Council for assessment.

The psychiatric report dated 7 January 2003, claimed that, " For the past 13 months or more Mr Simpson has been suffering from an acute psychotic major psychiatric illness."

Edited Conclusion:

Mr. Simpson is suffering from a mental illness as defined in the New South Wales Mental Health Act and requires treatment in a psychiatric hospital. He suffers from a psychotic disorder, which involves systematised paranoid delusions. He also has auditory hallucinations. Although he is receiving anti-psychotic medication, he remained psychotic at the time of the interview. He was clearly distressed and paranoid in his interactions with others. He has been in custody for almost four months.

If Scott wasn't getting any help with his psychiatric illness then it was clear to JA that it was possible he was being mistreated. It was also possible that he was not properly assessed on at least two of his last two placements and that had put him at risk.

Justice Action sent all the prisoners at the HRMU an authorisation to make some enquires on their behalf, as at least 25 prisoners had complained by then, of being mistreated in the unit. The authorities were telling them they were not segregated [in solitary confinement], when they insist they were. That they had to earn small things and that was insensitive to their basic needs. That they were not getting proper medial treatment had no constructive lifestyle, fresh air, sunlight or decent exercise, amongst many other complaints.

They sent their signatures on a signed application through another concerned person who had visited a prisoner at the HRMU.

Subsequently all the authorisations sent to the those prisoners who requested JA's help were confiscated by the Governor at the prison for approximately 11-13 months - during the period Scott Simpson remained helpless, sick and isolated.

(PIAC) the Public Interests Advocacy Centre was notified and assisted Justice Action to have the Governor and the Commissioner of Corrective Services review and release the authorities sent by JA so the prisoners could get help.

The reason the prisoners needed to send JA the authorities was because if those who want to assist them are not related to the prisoner then they are prevented from making enquiries about prisoners under the provisions of the Privacy Act. [?]

Why JA needed the authorities from the prisoners was because the signed application the prisoners had originally sent never specified Justice Action in particular. A catch 22 but it meant no help for all those who suffered and probably still suffer unbearable consequences in extraordinary inhuman conditions at the HRMU even today.

Tracey Simpson Scott's sister said, "Why did they put him in segregation for 26 months, locked down for 23 hours a day and no contact with human people?

In June last year Scott was found not guilty of the murder of his cellmate on the grounds of insanity because he suffered from schizophrenia.

A few days later Scott Simpson 34 was found hanging in his long bay segregation cell in 12-wing area 2, hanging by a bed sheet with a hand written letter to his family on the floor of his cell.

His family say that they warned authorities that Scott needed psychiatric help.

Detective Senior Constable Chris Hogan from Maroubra police has told the inquest that he could not contact the prison officer, Paul McCormack who was the first person to find Scott Simpson hanging and that he never obtained a witness statement from him.

When questioned further Constable Hogan told the court that McCormack had left the department of Corrective Services shortly after Simpson's death and that he had tried on numerous occasions to contact him but to no avail and that he was unable to get a statement from the prime witness.

The court asked Senior Constable Hogan if McCormack could be located to see what he has to say? Hogan acknowledged that it was important and said he'll do that!

The president of the Mental Health Review Tribunal professor Duncan Chappell has told Simpson's inquest that there was a beaurocratic problem that the Supreme Court did not pass on his papers for psychiatric assessment.

"We were not getting rapid referrals...we were simply not aware of Mr Simpson's case," he said.

Professor Chappell has told the court that as many as one time there could be as many as forty inmates waiting to be admitted to the jails psychiatric hospital. He said if there is no bed for them they are likely to be placed in another part of the prison system.

"There are simply not enough places in the hospital for the number of forensic patients that exist."

He said that this is a tragedy that should have been averted and that this is inadequate treatment of a forensic patient.

Forensic Psychiatrist Professor David Greenberg told the court that Simpson's psychiatric illness could have been made worse by his segregation [solitary confinement] depending on how he handled the isolation and his previous experience of that environment.

"In his acute psychiatric state he was at risk of self-harm", he said.

His sisters say that he should have been in hospital not solitary confinement.

His sister Kelly Simpson said, "They just locked him up and threw away the key, that's how I feel about it."

And Tracey said, "and then they tell us in the paperwork that a bed had become available to him when he died."

The Simpson's say that there brother was supposed to be receiving medication in custody yet he was found with just 3mg of paracetamol in his system.

Questions arise about the duty of care by DCS:

Why was Scott not diagnosed upon his arrival at Silverwater if he had a mental illness?

If he had been assessed as having a mental illness, would he have been placed in a difficult situation or with another person?

Why was a child sex offender put in the main and in Scott's cell? There is also an obligation because of peer pressure in the main to beat up a protection prisoner in the main or be put on protection for being a dog and not doing something about it!

Did the Department of Corrective Services have a duty of care 'not to place Scott in a difficult situation without any treatment?

Why was Scott not placed in a mental health facility if as the psychiatric report states he has a mental illness?

Why wasn't he sent to a hospital for treatment immediately after being found not guilty of murder due to mental illness and many months of segregation?

There is also another strange twist if you want to believe it is possible!

The authorities had known Scott Simpson very well from his previous time in jail, he was very well known by the system and they knew that he would stand up for himself and would not allow the authorities to compromise his human rights. That is if he had a way of preventing that from happening. In jail they call it staunch but outside they'd call it dissent! Standing up for your rights!

But in the HRMU there is no such thing, there are no hanging points and no way out but gas and then you will do anything that the authorities want, right or wrong.

Modern jails don't burn and modern glass doesn't break. One wonders whether Scott had some idea that he was going to be sent back to insanity, after all, he never made it for any sort of treatment?

Many prisoners in segregation self harm and I think if they could not escape it that would be insanity so the sight of prison bars in an old style jail could be seen as a chance to escape 'insanity'. [And in Solitary Confinement at Long Bay Prison that's where he found the bars to hang himself.]

So there is a greater possibility of suicide or I think in this case you may call it euthanasia. It's just a possibility that ran through my own mind having some understanding of what it's like freezing and hungry in a segregation [solitary confinement] cell in Goulburn in the middle of winter without any hanging points, to some people that could be unbearable.

The inquest continues for two days and then resumes on February 28 at the Glebe Coroners Court Sydney.

Death in custody: In memory of Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson 34 died in custody on 7 June 2004 leaving behind a child. It is alleged that he hanged himself in a segregation yard at Long Bay Prison Complex. Justice Action has reasons to believe that Scott had been mistreated from the time he was taken into custody and the subsequent events that ensued that led to his sad death. We think that his treatment may well have caused his death.

By Justice Action 28 November 05


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