Tragic death in ACT jail sparks another Moss review

By Stephen Easton

Friday June 3, 2016

Former integrity commissioner Philip Moss has once again been asked to conduct an independent review, this time into a suspicious death in custody at the ACT’s Alexander Maconochie Centre.

Minister for Corrections Shane Rattenbury announced the three-month inquiry yesterday, which he promised directly after the death of Steven Freeman on May 27 due to “particular sensitivities surrounding the individual”. Rattenbury issued a statement explaining its purpose:

“This inquiry will examine Mr Freeman’s care and supervision during his period of incarceration, including whether ACT Corrective Services’ systems operated effectively and in compliance with human rights obligations.

“This inquiry cannot examine the manner and cause of death of the detainee as that will be addressed by the police investigation and the Coroner.”

The terms of reference explain Moss is expected to “examine and, where appropriate, make recommendations to improve detainee management arrangements” and the minister says he will have “free reign” to go over the records.

While it is not the first death in the ACT’s very modern eight-year-old jail, Freeman’s death is being investigated due to controversy surrounding it. He was assaulted last year in the AMC so severely he was placed in an induced coma, only hours after arriving, and then was returned to the jail with police suggesting it was the safest place for him. His family was reportedly warned that his life would be in danger back inside.

Moss has recently been reviewing the first two years of the federal Public Interest Disclosure scheme, and last year was called in to draw a line under the disturbing reports and controversial allegations about happenings at the Nauru asylum seeker detention centre.

Rattenbury listed a number of measures yesterday he had already put in place to mitigate “the effect this death in custody may have on other detainees in the AMC, particularly those that identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander” and said a “culturally appropriate service within the AMC to commemorate Mr Freeman’s life” would be arranged.

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