Veronica Nelson’s tragic death must spark reform in system that failed her

Warning to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers: This story contains images and references to a deceased person.

It is not only gut-wrenching and haunting to watch the CCTV of Indigenous woman Veronica Nelson dying in the custody of the Victorian state, but enraging. It is impossible to watch and listen to her repeated cries for the medical help she was never given and not feel the urge to demand change and accountability for the failures that caused her preventable death in custody.

Coroner Simon McGregor’s soon-to-be-released findings about Nelson’s final days and hours should ensure her death will have a lasting impact. It will provide impetus for the state government to finally address long-standing failures in the criminal justice system that have resulted in far too many women and Indigenous Australians being remanded into state custody.

McGregor, whose conclusions have been shared with The Age by sources, not only catalogues the human errors, failings and indifference to Nelson’s suffering that contributed to her death, but the systemic failings that made it possible.

The reliance on private healthcare companies in prisons has always been controversial, but the actions of Correct Care Australasia in neglecting to deliver healthcare to Nelson and then covering up this failure must surely cause a rethink on the use of for-profit providers in closed institutions Australia-wide.

The system of oversight in Victorian jails is also damned in McGregor’s report. The government officials initially tasked with reviewing Nelson’s death did not identify the way jail staff, including Correct Care and Corrections Victoria employees, failed in their duties.

How many other deaths in our jails have been subject to inadequate scrutiny?

Nelson should never have been in jail after her arrest in late 2019.

The toughening of Victoria’s bail laws after the Bourke Street Mall massacre has led to far too many vulnerable Victorians, including Indigenous people, being remanded into custody.

It’s why McGregor believes bail laws need urgent reform. Police and court staff also need better training to help keep more Indigenous Australians out of jail.

Those inside the Andrews government say it will reform bail in the first six months of this year, but McGregor’s recommendation that it also turn attention back to the 1991 Indigenous deaths in custody royal commission serves as a stark warning of the difficulty in implementing change in the criminal justice system.

It’s why Nelson’s death must not only provoke Victorians to anger, but to stay angry until reforms that are overdue are introduced.

Got a tip about healthcare failings in Australian prisons? Confidentially contact journalist Nick McKenzie at [email protected]

The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article