“My heart was shattered, my soul broken, and now I wish I took him for a walk outside for his last bit of fresh air as a free man,” said Kylie Hampton to the Alice Springs Coroner’s Court of her father’s last day of life.
Ms Hampton’s father died in prison custody – in Alice Springs Hospital – shackled to the bed despite being both frail and due for release. In fact he had been due for parole the week before he died. Mr Clarke had been a minor offender, a father of nine, he had never been violent. His family ache at the indignity of his death, at the intolerance of a prison system that could not find the discretion, the humanity, to unshackle him during his near two week stay in Alice Springs Hospital, or more importantly to release him altogether and allow him and his family to spend the final days together. It was not for lack of trying – in addition to family members who advocated for his release, social worker Thomas Quayle of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service had made a number of approaches to secure his release – to no avail.
Ms Hampton will continue to campaign for an end to the draconian practice of shackling, and for a reform of the parole system, where for instance someone in her father’s predicament who was due for release and who was physically vulnerable should be released expeditiously – Ms Hampton has called for a humane justice system, one with an ethos of care.
Only a fortnight ago, on the last day of the Coroner’s Court in sitting to inquire into the death of Mr Clarke, Ms Hampton said to the Court, “Your Honour, I am the eldest daughter and spokesperson for the family. I would like to thank you on behalf of my family for giving me the opportunity to address you.”
“First of all, Aunty Glad (Mr Clarke’s sister – Gladys Appo) and the family believe there needs to be more Aboriginal-identified positions in the prison, such as Aboriginal health workers.”
84 per cent of the Northern Territory’s prison population is comprised of Aboriginal peoples and at Alice Springs prison the statistic is 90 per cent.
“Aboriginal inmates would be more comfortable talking with Aboriginal health workers.”
Ms Hampton also referred to the parole process, where in order to expedite early parole her father needed to complete a number of steps which he was denied usually because of the queue for them. “It was known to all Dad’s family that he sought, asking on a number of occasions, permission to enrol in the drug rehabilitation course.” Ms Hampton said that he was continually rejected but that if he had completed the course it would have significantly contributed to an early release.
Ms Hampton also referred to what she said was the prison system’s neglect of her father’s health needs. Mr Clarke had been quite sick for a long while. “If medical treatment was continuous, had he received proper medical treatment we could have detected his illness a lot sooner. This would have definitely had an influence on the parole board to grant him early release.”
During her statement to Coroner Peter Cavanaugh, Ms Hampton broke down in tears. There were a few moments of silence.
“As for the inhumane shackling of my father (by the ankle to the hospital bed) in the intensive care unit – this was just absolutely heart breaking.”
“To know your father, brother, uncle, friend, any loved one is treated like an animal is not only sickening but inexcusable.”
Ms Hampton suggested that the Department of Corrective Services policy of shackling “needs to be urgently addressed.”
“He was due for release and he was a low-level inmate who did not require maximum security, and yet the decision (to shackle him) was made, it was so appalling.”
“I would like to share with the Court today, the last day my Dad spoke to me, which was the day before he died.”
“He had wanted me to take him downstairs for a walk.” At long last there could be respite from the shackling and the experience of dignity, the sensing of both life and freedom.
“I asked the male nurse to dress him. When I returned he was dressed but lost a lot of energy.” He was to be taken out with a wheelchair but the nurse now concerned at his deteriorating state decided not to let him leave the intensive care unit.
“He told Dad he could not go. Dad’s reply was ‘come on fuck ya, I want to go with my kids.’”
“As I left (that day) and said goodbye he asked ‘whose car you got?’ I told him I had no car. As I walked away I could see he was getting distressed. He yelled the loudest I have ever heard him, ‘Kylie, Kylie…’ My heart was shattered, my soul broken, and now I wish I took him for a walk outside for his last bit of fresh air as a free man.”
“My Dad meant the world to me and to my brothers and sisters. He was always there for us.”
“He did not have to die in the hospital. He could have spent his last precious moments with us, his kids and family, where no doubt he would have died with dignity, respect and most importantly, peace.”
“Thank you for hearing me today.”