Thursday 1 February 2024
A coronial inquest heard today that vulnerable people are still being held in cells with hanging points in a NSW prison unit where an Aboriginal man took his life.
Proud Darkinjung man and father of two, Timothy Garner died on 7 July 2018 while held on remand at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre (MRRC) in Silverwater. He was 30 years old.
Tim had a significant history of mental illness including diagnoses of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
An inquest into his death, presided over by Deputy State Coroner Derek Lee, heard about Tim’s troubled mental state prior and subsequent to his arrest; failure to complete mandatory training by some members of the Risk Intervention Team (RIT) who were tasked with reducing Tim's risk of suicide; and difficulties faced by Tim’s family members when they attempted to alert the prison to Tim’s fragile mental state.
The inquest heard that Tim’s mental health continued to deteriorate in custody, even in the face of repeated pleas from Tim’s mother and partner that he needed acute mental health support.
The Deputy State Coroner today found that Tim took his own life using the fire sprinkler in his cell at the MRRC’s Darcy Pod.
The Darcy Pod is an older section of the prison. During hearings last year, the inquest received evidence that it is a stark environment, particularly for people struggling with their mental health.
The Deputy State Coroner noted that refurbishments to the Darcy Pod are currently taking place, including the removal of hanging points, but meanwhile some at-risk prisoners remain housed there.
His Honour recommended the Commissioner of Corrective Services monitor the ongoing refurbishments so that all inmates involved in the RIT process be housed in refurbished Darcy Pod units, or in the newer O Block, by the end of 2024.
His Honour also recommended that the Commissioner consider the introduction of refresher training for prison staff on Risk Intervention Teams at minimum 5-year intervals.
Tim Garner is one of at least 558 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in custody and police operations since the Royal Commission. The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited represented his mother, Michelle Garner, in the coronial inquest.
Quotes from Michelle Garner, mother of Tim Garner:
“My son was let down by the system. Tim was a good dad to his two daughters. He had his family’s backs and he had his mates’ backs. He struggled with his mental health, but he really didn’t have to die the way he did.
Tim was just 30 years old and had so much life left to live. His death could have been avoided if Silverwater listened to our repeated phone calls and gave him the appropriate healthcare.
“I don’t want what happened to Tim swept under the carpet. Prisons are full of people with mental health issues and they deserve to get treatment. They should be treated like human beings. And for their families, they deserve to know when their loved one goes to jail, they’ll be coming back out.”
Quotes from Emma Parker, Coronial and Trial Advocate at the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited:
“The Aboriginal Legal Service stands with our client Michelle Garner and all of Tim Garner’s family and friends.
“Gaols are not appropriate or therapeutic environments to treat mental health conditions. Tim Garner should have been treated in a hospital, not in custody. His repeated self-harm attempts and debilitating mental illness were poorly understood by members of Silverwater’s Risk Intervention Team. Tim’s death is an injustice and yet another case where serious shortcomings in prison healthcare have been uncovered through an inquest.
“This is further proof that NSW prisons are failing families and communities, especially Aboriginal people who are disproportionally locked up by our police and courts.
“It is unacceptable that preventable deaths are still occurring in NSW prisons. Last century the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody raised the need to remove hanging points throughout prisons to prevent deaths in custody, yet Tim Garner tragically died 27 years after that recommendation was handed down.”
Alyssa Robinson [email protected] 0427 346 017
Michelle Garner grants media outlets permission to publish the below photo of her son Tim:
The below photos were taken at the Coroner’s Court this morning and can be published with attribution to the Aboriginal Legal Service:
Michelle Garner (centre), with friends and supporters, taking part in a Smoking Ceremony before court.
Michelle Garner speaks outside the court after the findings are handed down.