Prisoner deaths investigated

00:25, Sep 24 2013

Police are investigating two prisoner deaths at the Otago prison after a complaint about the death of remand inmate.

The investigation is being carried out under scrutiny from the Independent Police Conduct Authority, (IPCA), into how remand inmate Jai Davis came to die in his cell in February 2011. It is also investigating the death of Richard Barriball four months earlier.

The investigation into Davis' death was sparked by Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking who said he had serious concerns about medical and health care in the Otago prison.

A Corrections Department spokeswoman today confirmed the investigation but would not comment further.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley, who is also Minister of Police, said she had no role in the IPCA investigation.

"They have complete independence to investigate whatever they feel deserves it," she said.

"I've heard on the news they've had some new evidence, I would expect they would then take that investigation further because of that evidence."

Tolley said a lot of work had been done in the area of mental health care in prisons since Davis' death.

"A lot of people who do come to prison have mental health issues," she said.

"Each one of them now gets a screening."

Tolley said there needed to be a balance, but if the police investigation resulted in recommendations, Corrections would take them on board.

"We have to make sure they get good health services in prison, but they are entitled to no better health services than anyone outside prison."

Clutha-Dunedin police area commander Greg Sparrow said police had been investigating Davis's death on behalf of the coroner since it occurred, but since April of this year an investigation team had been working on the case fulltime.

"The investigation has been complex and has developed as new information has come to hand," he said.

"The investigation is not yet complete and is likely to conclude in the next few months."

He said police had also been reviewing the investigation file into Barriball's death.

"These are both current investigations and police are not able to comment further until they are completed."

An IPCA spokeswoman said the complaint concerned the adequacy and length of time the police investigation into Davis' death took.

"This complaint is currently being independently investigated by the authority," the spokeswoman said.

"The same complainant has also brought the death of another prisoner, Richard Barriball, to the authority's attention.

"The authority has asked police to consider any issues raised about Mr Barriball's death during their investigation of Mr Davis' death. The authority is not dealing separately with this matter."

Brooking runs a blog campaigning about the treatment of inmates in prisons.

In May he wrote about the Davis case, detailing how the 19-year-old's death was treated as a suicide warranting limited investigation by police.

He claimed the death may have been due to the fact Davis was not sent to hospital for examination even though he was believed to be concealing drugs internally.