Junee jail slammed for ‘failing to act’ after ‘tortured’ death of inmate Keith Howlett

A scathing coroner’s report last year slammed the “callous” death of a Junee jail inmate as “unnecessary”.

Ten months later, human rights advocates say nothing has changed.

Keith Howlett was serving a two-year sentence for child-sex offences when he collapsed and died after just five weeks at the privately-run Junee Correctional Centre in 2013. 

Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame in 2017 found “disappointing” medical neglect had contributed to Mr Howlett’s suffering before he died on May 24. 

Magistrate Grahame criticised the GEO Group facility for the excessive pain Mr Howlett endured, making his final weeks “tortured” and “full of despair”. 

The 49-year-old had previously been diagnosed with lung cancer, HIV, peripheral vascular disease, chronic nausea, depression, anxiety, insomnia, gastro-oesophageal disease and hypercholesteromia. 

But while in jail, he was weaned off his pain relief, his cancer treatment was not continued and he never saw a psychiatrist. 

The inquest found Mr Howlett had experienced vomiting, insomnia, diarrhoea and he was coughing blood, in the weeks leading to his death.

According to the Deputy State Coroner, the 49-year-old’s level of care should have been the same as any resident within the public system.

However, Justice Action coordinator Brett Collins said it was not.

Mr Collins had feared the coroner’s six recommendations, for improved palliative and medical care, and health services education in the centre, would not be adopted. 

“The centre certainly has not improved its game,” Mr Collins said.

“The attitude of GEO Group and Justice Health ... was effectively: ‘We don’t feel we have to improve our behaviour’.”

In a statement, Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network said all six of the coroner’s recommendations had been “considered” and were being “progressively implemented where appropriate”.

It follows an audit of the centre’s chronic disease screening in November, of which no results were provided, and it said “access to training in palliative care” was available to network clinicians. 

When contacted by The Daily Advertiser, a GEO spokesperson said that: “GEO Group is supportive of the recommendations and will take relevant measures to ensure that policies are implemented at Junee Correctional Centre to guarantee consistency and best practice outcomes for all inmate patients.”