Death shows prison system 'disgraceful'

01:43, Jan 31 2009

A Christchurch woman slammed the prison system as "absolutely disgraceful" after her brother died of pneumonia despite pleas for extra clothing and bedding.

David Cox, 62, died at Christchurch Hospital on March 18, 2006 after contracting pneumococcal pneumonia seven days earlier at Christchurch Prison.

Christchurch Coroner Richard McElrea released findings into Cox's death yesterday, criticising the "slow machinations" of the prison system.

Elizabeth Jenkins, Cox's sister, told the inquest the last time she saw her brother conscious six days before he was admitted to hospital he had been shaking uncontrollably, his nose was streaming, his nose and lips were blue, and his hands were blue and icy to touch.

She wrapped her wool pashmina around his neck and "he sat on his hands to try to stop the shaking".

Doctors examined Cox five days later for another matter and he was given two paracetamol tablets for a cold.


The following day when his condition worsened he was taken to hospital. The Coroner found his pneumonia could have developed quickly after he was examined.

Jenkins said her brother, who was a chronic alcoholic, suffered emphysema and was "extremely frail and physically weak".

He had been in prison less than a month for minor offences when he died, she said.

"It was an appalling, appalling situation. I was so shocked he was in an horrific place for three weeks and he was dead," she said yesterday. "He died of total, cold neglect.

The Coroner's findings detail how Jenkins visited Cox on the day of his sentencing to drop off warm clothes and medication. She was not allowed to see Cox and the clothes and medication were refused.

Cox asked for an extra blanket but this was declined.

"If the prison is not able to offer a proper level of care and indeed allow the basic human rights of adequate food, a warm bed and enough warm clothing to an inherently sick person, then that person should not be entrusted to their care," Jenkins said.

Jenkins said she tried on several occasions to talk to prison staff to discuss Cox's medical history and needs.

Long-term alcoholics needed support and needed to talk to prison staff to make their needs clear and enable them to survive a prison regime.

The prison had not received any of Cox's medical files which had been passed on to the probation office.

The inquest heard how Jenkins continued to post warm clothes to Cox which were also refused as prisoners were required to wear prison clothing.

There was a one week delay for Cox to receive his thermal underwear that accompanied him to prison.

The Coroner recommendations included:

- Prisoners not being deprived of the means of keeping warm at any time.

- Prisoners being told the name of the case officer assigned as a liaison person and how to communicate with that person.

- If a liaison person is unavailable an alternative liaison person is assigned to the prisoner and the prisoner notified accordingly.

- Procedures for receipt of prisoners' belongings be reviewed to ensure basic items such as clothing are made available to the prisoner without delay.

- Prisoners be made aware of the procedure for formally requesting such items such as extra bedding.

- Prisoners' families or support people be made aware of limitations of material such as basic clothing that can be sent to a prisoner.

The inquest was told a Department of Corrections inspector investigated Cox's death, concluding his treatment in prison was "timely, adequate and appropriate for his known condition prior to being admitted to Christchurch Hospital".

A Corrections spokesman said the department received the Coroner's findings yesterday and would be considering the recommendations and how they might be acted on.


The Press