Australia Inquest into death of 'Porsche kid' Bret Capper finds 'intolerable pressure' on prison counsellors
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The coroner who examined the suicide of a notorious Perth criminal once dubbed the "Porsche Kid" has called for an urgent increase in the number of prison counsellors, saying rising musters and dwindling staffing levels are causing "intolerable pressure".
Bret Lindsay Capper, 43, died in hospital two days after barricading himself in a day room at Hakea Prison in January 2016 and trying to kill himself.
Capper had been in prison since October 2015 on charges of armed robbery, burglary, assault and stealing.
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He gained publicity when he was a youth because of his record of stealing luxury cars.
An inquest into his death was mandatory because he was in custody at the time.
It heard that in the months before his death, Capper had tried to access the Prison Counselling Service (PCS), but had only attended one session.
'No capacity … to lower risk of suicide'
In his findings, Coroner Michael Jenkin said staffing levels in the PCS, which at the time were affected by a freeze on public sector recruitment, meant it was unable to provide Capper with the counselling that had been recommended.
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He said despite a rise in prisoner numbers, staffing levels within the PCS had been "dwindling" at Hakea, and as a consequence it "had no capacity to provide the kinds of proactive, preventive counselling that could help lower the risk of suicide and self harm".
"This situation led to intolerable pressure being placed on PCS staff," he said.
The coroner highlighted the evidence of another prisoner who testified he became depressed and suicidal after Capper's death but had to "literally beg and beg" for help, and only received counselling after detectives investigating Capper's case sent an email to the prison.
"[This] account of his attempts to get help for his mental health condition describes the situation at Hakea at the time of the deceased's death in stark terms," the coroner said.
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That prisoner also claimed that during the standoff, he overheard a prison officer say she "didn't care if he died", while another inmate claimed a guard refer to him as a "junkie".
Mr Jenkin said he was unable to come to a final conclusion as to whether the words were said, but said he was heartened senior officers had testified at the inquest that if they had heard such words they would have taken "decisive action."
Call for urgent action
Mr Jenkin said the Justice Department had informed him that approval had been given for an additional nine PCS staff to be employed — six in metropolitan prisons and three in regional areas.
"Whilst this is welcome news, it is now incumbent on the department to take all necessary steps to expeditiously recruit suitable staff to fill these positions and, importantly, to put proper structures in place … in order to retain them," he said.
"The department should take urgent steps to recruit these staff."
The coroner also recommended the department consult with a mental health expert about providing training to prison staff about the features of mental health disorders.
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