An inquest into the 2015 death in custody of an Aboriginal man in a NSW correctional centre began on Monday.
Danny Whitton, 25, passed away on November 9, 2015 after falling ill from an apparent accidental drug overdose in Junee Correctional Centre, a private prison operated by the GEO Group.
Mr Whitton was taken to the medical unit at Junee Correctional Centre on November 5, 2015 and was found on the morning of November 7 with limited consciousness. An ambulance was called five hours later which took him to Wagga Wagga Base hospital where he was diagnosed as suffering from liver failure.
He was urgently airlifted to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney where he later passed away.
An inquest running until Friday this week will explore the cause of death and how Mr Whitton accessed a fatal quantity of paracetamol or buprenorphine in prison.
Mr Whitton’s parents, Kylie Knight and Darren Whitton, say they want the inquest to explore how the drugs were accessed, why emergency medical care was delayed and serious deficiencies in how correctional staff communicate with families.
“We have evidence from other men in the prison that as early as 5 November 2015, Danny’s skin was yellow and he was ‘pissing blood’, vomiting and in pain. Why did correctional staff wait another two days before taking him to hospital? Would he still be alive if he’d been taken sooner?” Ms Knight and Mr Whitton said.
Ms Knight says she wants to see the inquest explore policies and practices around notifying next-of-kin.
“I didn’t even know my son was sick until Wagga Wagga Base Hospital contacted me. By that stage, Danny’s airlift to Sydney was already being arranged. I never got a phone call from Corrective Services NSW or Junee Correctional Centre,” Ms Knight said.
NSW Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Karly Warner says the five year delay in launching the inquest show’s the value placed on Aboriginal lives and the lives of people recovering from addiction.
“More than 440 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have passed away in prisons and police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody almost 30 years ago,” Ms Warner said.