Tracy-Lee Brannigan inquest: prison cells should be randomly checked, says coroner

Random searches of cells after 'lockdown’ should be considered following the death of a female prisoner from a heroin overdose, a NSW coroner says.

Tracy-Lee Brannigan was locked down in a high-risk cell at Dillwynia Women’s Correctional Centre on Sydney’s outskirts on February 24 last year.

The next morning her cell mate woke at 5am to find the 41-year-old slumped over on the floor dead from a heroin overdose.

In handing down the findings of an inquest into her death, Deputy State Coroner Paul MacMahon said on Monday the availability of drugs in prisons across NSW was an ‘‘endemic problem’’.

‘‘Some inmates will go to considerable lengths to obtain drugs,’’ he said, adding that about 75 per cent of those women incarcerated had addiction issues.

Tracy Brannigan, pictured alongside her son, died in prison in February 2013.

Tracy Brannigan, pictured alongside her son, died in prison in February 2013.

As most drug taking appeared to occur after inmates are locked in, Mr MacMahon said random searches of cells at or shortly after lockdown could uncover those illicit substances that had been hidden by people outside their cells during the day.

He recommended that consideration be given to such searches being implemented.

Particular attention should be given to cells occupied by inmates that are known or suspected drug users, he said.

Director of Women in Prisoner Advocacy Network Kat Armstrong previously told the inquest Brannigan was ‘‘all over the place’’ when she saw her on the afternoon of February 24 and it was obvious the 41-year-old was on drugs.    

Ms Armstrong said she indirectly raised these concerns with a male corrections officer.But Mr MacMahon rejected that Brannigan was drug-affected at this point.Instead he found it was ‘‘more likely than not’’ that Brannigan administered heroin to herself shortly after being locked in her cell.

Officers later found syringes hidden in a shampoo bottle inside her cell.