Photo Courtesy of: National Archives
A NOTE FROM the Bleeding Obvious file. Melbourne Coroner Ian Gray has recommended that the Adult Parole Board be notified immediately whenever a criminal out on parole is admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
Jesus wept. We should have been safe to assume that that was existing mandatory policy. That a Parole Board alert would be the first thing anybody did. And that the Parole Board would be notified before that person was let out into the community again.
But you know what they say about the word ‘assume’: it makes an ass out of you and out of me’.
Seriously, the fact that the coroner has to even make such a recommendation shows what a shambles our parole system has been for decades. And, tragically, it has been a fatal shambles.
Coroner Gray’s common sense recommendation comes out of the inquest into the murder of Margaret Burton. The 40-year-old Hoppers Crossing woman was killed with a meat cleaver in her home in June 2009 by her partner Jayson Hawkins.
He was on parole at the time and had just been released from Werribee Hospital's psychiatric ward. a litany of errors
(Hawkins, 37, committed suicide in custody six months later, while awaiting trial for Ms Burton's murder.)
The Hawkins case shows a litany of errors and misjudgements. Even though the violent criminal was still classified as still being a high risk of re-offending, he was released on parole in 2008 to live with Ms Burton.
She told family and friends she was concerned about Hawkins’ mental state and feared for her safety and broke up with him. A short time later he killed her.
Before that he had been an involuntary patient at the Werribee Mercy Hospital psychiatric unit and was released a week before Margaret Burton’s murder.
This is the real scary bit for the rest of the community. At no stage, when Hawkins was admitted for psychiatric treatment nor when he was released, was the Parole Board notified of the changed circumstances.
Coroner Gray said: ‘An “escalation” in a mental state should trigger a heightened response from the system. So much seems obvious’.
He was also critical of risk assessment being too reliant on a patient’s word about their condition. ‘I was struck by the degree to which there has been a reliance on self-assessment. It is a clear weakness in the system’.
A scandalous spate of parolee murders, including Jill Meagher, Raechel Betts and Margaret Burton, prompted a massive review of the parole system last year by former High Court Justice Ian Callinan who found that violent criminals had been released without proper concerns for public safety.The shake-up that followed included multiple changes to the makeup of the Adult Parole Board.
Not before bloody time.