State Coroner Ian Gray urges parole rule change after meat cleaver murder

The case of a prisoner on parole who slit his partner’s throat with a meat cleaver has prompted a call by Victoria’s State Coroner to change reporting requirements.
Nanjing Night Net

Prison psychologist Margaret Burton, 40, died after her partner and former client Jayson Hawkins attacked her in her Hoppers Crossing home in Melbourne’s west in June 2009.

State Coroner Ian Gray recommended on Thursday that criminals who are admitted to psychiatric wards while on parole should trigger a notification to authorities.

Ms Burton had treated Hawkins at Loddon Prison in Castlemaine and developed a close bond with him and his grandparents before he was released on parole in 2005.

She was forced to resign when prison staff noticed the pair out together around Castlemaine, but Ms Burton and Hawkins maintained their relationship after he breached parole conditions and went back to prison. He was again released in 2008.

Two weeks before he killed Ms Burton, Hawkins was involuntarily admitted to Werribee Mercy hospital for psychiatric care, where he stayed for eight days in a low-dependency unit.

He had spent most of his adult life in prison and had prior convictions for theft, intentionally causing serious injury and armed robbery.

On four previous occasions he had been released on parole only to fail to comply with conditions or to reoffend.

Hawkins was charged with Ms Burton’s murder, but killed himself before standing trial.

In his findings, Judge Gray said he was struck by the degree to which authorities had relied on parolees’ self-assessment when deciding whether they posed a risk to those around them.

“There is almost an inevitable likelihood of self-serving self-assessments,” he said.

A group of families who had loved ones killed by prisoners on parole said authorities had prioritised offenders completing their parole over the safety of people living with them and the broader community, and Judge Gray agreed.

He noted that Corrections Victoria had recently reviewed its risk-assessment tools and was now using a different regime.

Judge Gray recommended that if parolees were involuntarily admitted to hospital or in contact with an emergency department for psychiatric reasons, the Adult Parole Board should be notified.

Where known, the parole board should also be told about voluntary psychiatric hospital admissions or contact with emergency departments, he said.

Judge Gray said when a parolee’s mental health worsened, the Adult Parole Board should urgently consider the circumstances and the level of risk to the public, individuals and the parolee.

Mercy Health, which operates the Werribee hospital, told the coroner Hawkins suffered from a crisis, not psychosis, and there was no evidence during his hospital stay or discharge that he might harm himself or Ms Burton.

Judge Gray accepted that hospital staff had not acted explicitly below an acceptable standard of care, and he noted the health system had since started using a new risk-rating tool.

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