Transgender prisoner ‘not suicidal’

A transgender Aboriginal woman who hanged herself while on remand in a male jail had denied having any suicidal tendencies, a coroner has been told.

Veronnica Baxter, who was formerly known as James Drury, was found dead in her cell at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre at Silverwater Correctional Centre on the morning of March 16, 2009.

She had used a bed sheet to hang herself from a top bunk bed, the NSW Coroner’s Court at Glebe heard on Monday.

She had been arrested at her Sydney home six days earlier for alleged drug offences and was held in the cells at Surry Hills police station until March 14, before being transferred to Silverwater.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Michael Ramage, said Ms Baxter was asked on a number of occasions whether she had suicidal thoughts, including during an initial screening by a counsellor at the prison.

At no time did she identify herself as being at risk, the inquest heard.

Ms Baxter was placed in a cell by herself and wasn’t under any special observations, as per procedure for inmates deemed not at risk of self-harm.

Patrick Saidi, for Corrective Services, said there was no defect in the department’s transgender policy and there had been only two clear deaths in custody of transgender people since 1997.

Jamie McLachlan, for Ms Baxter’s family, submitted that to avoid such tragedies in future, people should be placed in safe cells until the assessment process was complete.


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