How was Tracy-Lee able to keep using drugs in jail?

Heroin dealer and mother of three Tracy-Lee Brannigan was allegedly able to continue using drugs while locked in isolation.
Heroin dealer and mother of three Tracy-Lee Brannigan was allegedly able to continue using drugs while locked in isolation.

Convicted Wollongong heroin dealer Tracy-Lee Brannigan died of a suspected drug overdose while in custody, raising serious questions about how the known addict was able to continue using drugs in jail.

Prison authorities allegedly knew the mother of three, who died on February 25 at Sydney's Dillwynia Correctional Centre, was using drugs in custody, yet she was locked in isolation and not adequately supervised.

Members of Brannigan's family have now turned to advocacy group Justice Action to seek answers from Minister for Justice Greg Smith, in the hope of preventing similar deaths in custody.

Justice Action co-ordinator Brett Collins claims prison authorities were well aware of the 41-year-old's drug abuse and had sanctioned her, placing her in isolation for suspected contraband and drug use.

Despite the punishment, it was blatantly obvious to a volunteer from the Women in Prison Advocacy Network, who visited Brannigan just days before her death, that she was still affected by drugs, Justice Action said.

Both the Department of Corrective Services and Mr Smith's office said they could not comment as the matter was before the coroner.

Mr Collins believes Brannigan's death, and her four previous overdoses in custody, signal a need for urgent change.

He claims Brannigan should never have been isolated when it was clear she was drug-affected and that her life could have been saved if she had been rehabilitated and sufficiently monitored.

He has sent a draft report and action plan to the Department of Corrective Services, Justice Health and the government calling for fresh policies, reviews of procedures and the end of prisons using isolation as a sanction.

"We have made it clear that this change can happen and it must happen," Mr Collins said.

"We can't again and again have cases [like this] before the coroner, it's not acceptable.

"Tracy was a special person and her family are just distraught because of what happened to her; we need to hold people accountable [as some of them] just didn't care."

Brannigan, a former swimming school operator, had been serving a minimum four years for supplying drugs but was due for parole in May.

She had planned to undertake a new business venture and spend time with her children.