Cell upgrades needed in Qld, inquest told

·3-min read

An inquest into the prison death of two-time killer John Edward Harris has heard further reform is needed for old stock cells in Queensland prisons.

Harris was found dead at the Townsville Correctional Facility on July 4, 2019, after taking his life on the anniversary of when he was remanded for the offence he was ultimately convicted and sentenced for.

He was serving a life sentence for his part in the torture and murder of 28-year-old mother-of-four Tia Landers on June 16, 2014.

At the inquest in Townsville on Monday, the court heard that prison officer Dion Foreman found Harris cold, stiff and unresponsive at 4.52am when conducting the second inmate head count of the night.

Mr Foreman said Harris was the sole occupant of his cell and showed no prior signs of self harm in the lead-up to his death, with his first routine check at 8.40pm indicating no stress or intent to self harm that night.

A report prepared by Detective Senior Constable Peta Schenk into Harris' death at the prison's Harold Gregg Unit said inmates were interviewed and spoke of no unusual behaviour prior to his death.

Another report was prepared for the state coroner by Queensland Correctional Services Assistant Commissioner Peter Shaddock, detailing the removal of old stock cells across correctional facilities.

He told the court there are 340 old stock cells across Queensland and there is a detailed and dynamic plan to the cabinet budget review committee to remove or make them safer cells.

"The safer cells refers to a fire-engineered, or secure cell, so there's no natural openings, you can't open any windows, louvres, those sorts of things," Mr Shaddock told the court.

"It involves quite a significant body of work to do all those 340 cells and will cost in the vicinity of $195 million.

"So there's work in the cell itself. It's a removal of potential ligature points."

These include flush fittings, light fittings fixtures, intercom systems, radios, changes to the design of the tables, basins, toilets and showers, while also looking at roof structures outside of the cell.

"There's a lot of elements in play. It is quite a comprehensive and complex undertaking," Mr Shaddock said.

But he said works would start only with the imprimatur from the cabinet committee, irrespective of Queensland Corrective Services' position.

QCS lawyer Jessica Franco said throughout Harris' time in prison he was a protected prisoner with an elevated baseline risk, but not due to any self-harm incidents in custody.

"The placement of prisoners with an elevated baseline risk in old stock sells is acceptable so long as mitigation is provided," she said.

"(Mr Shaddock) agreed that not displaying any at risk behaviours, denying suicidal ideations when asked ...

"The case notes suggest that QCS had been observing that behaviour for years and this was considered normal for him."

Findings are set to be handed down on September 20.

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