INMATES at a mental health unit where an Indigenous man was found unconscious in 2013 were often kept locked down in their cells for 23 hours a day, Newcastle Coroner’s Court has heard.
David Wotherspoon, 31, was in a “safe cell” under constant video surveillance at Cessnock Correctional Centre on April 5, 2013, when two correctional officers found himunconscious with a cordaround his neck.
He never regained consciousness and died in John Hunter Hospital nine days later.
An inquest being held in Newcastle Coroner’s Court this week is examining a number of issues, including mental health treatment and referrals for inmates in custody, procedural, staffing and training practices, among others.
Mr Wotherspoon, who had a history of mental illness, self-harm and suicide attempts, was referred to the mental health screening unit (MHSU) at Silverwater on March 15.
But the inquest is exploring why that referral was delayed for nearly a week,leaving Mr Wotherspoon at Cessnock.
Laurel Kibble, a mental health nurse at Cessnock Correctional Centre at the time of Mr Wotherspoon’s death, was asked how much time inmates in that unit had outside of their cell.
“They were locked in their cell most of the time,” Ms Kibble said.
“It would vary, but up to 23 hours a day, I would estimate.”
When asked what effect that would have on someone with mental health issues, she replied: “It’s not good for someone’s mental health to be isolated for such long periods.”
The inquest heard on Tuesday that Mr Wotherspoon was not found to have any “suicidal ideations” at a risk intervention team (RIT) review only hours before he was found unconscious.
However, the team conducting the review was without a Justice Health representative, despite it being required under the guidelines.
The inquest, before State Coroner Michael Barnes, continues on Wednesday.