Holcroft was a low risk inmate serving 7 months for a drink-driving offence. He was several weeks into his sentence when he was being transported with six other prisoners to a low-security farm. From the information made available by ABC, as Holcroft was dying in the van, the other inmates banged on the walls of the van and yelled to attract the drivers’ attention. The van was equipped with a camera in each of the four corners of the van’s security compartment. One inmate repeatedly signed at the cameras to attract the attention of the drivers.
At one point, while Holcroft was feeling ill, the van stopped at a petrol station. Water was requested by the inmates but was refused.
SafetyAtWorkBlog spoke with Stewart Little of the Public Services Association, the union with coverage for prison officers in New South Wales. He stated that whether the inmates and officers “are in jail, court or in transport, safety is critically important” and that prison officers keep safety at front-of-mind at all times.
A spokesperson for the NSW Coroner’s Court told SafetyAtWorkBlog that although no date has been set for an inquest into Mark Holcroft’s death, the issue will be mentioned at Glebe Coroners Court on 23 April 2010 to ensure that the preparatory work is progressing.
There are many other sad circumstances to Holcroft’s death and you are encouraged to read the article and view the video.
As you do, consider whether there is an occupational health and safety context to the issue. It may be possible to say that Corrective Services NSW has breached its employer’s duties under section 1.8(2) – Others at workplace:
“An employer must ensure that people (other than the employees of the employer) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer’s undertaking while they are at the employer’s place of work.”
This could apply if one considers the prison van to be a place of work. According to Tooma’s Annotated OHS Act 2000 (NSW) – page 25 (1st edition)
“The elements of a charge under s 8(2) of the OHS Act 2000 which the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt are:
- that the defendant was an employer;
- that a non-employee was exposed to risks to her or his health or safety;
- the risks arose from the defendant’s conduct of an undertaking;
- the non-employee was at the defendant’s place of work; and that there was a causal nexus between the defendant’s breach and the risk to the non-employee’s duty.”
As is clear from the interviews with four of the inmates who watched Mark Holcroft die, there is a lasting psychological impact from what they witnessed and heard. So although Mark Holcroft died that day there were at least four others who were harmed by the experience, not to mention his family.
WorkCover NSW has been approached for a comment.
More information on the Holcroft’s death, including Parliamentary questions from 2009, can be found at the website of the NSW Greens MP Sylvia Hale.
Lateline also broadcast an interview with Professor Chris Cunneen of the University of New South Wales law faculty, on the issue of duty of care in prison transportation.
UPDATE – 4 March 2010 – Workcover NSW has advised that they do not investigate deaths of prisoners while the prisoners are in custody.