July 16, 2024

In an outdoor communal area at Dillwynia women’s prison in Sydney’s west, authorities discovered evidence of a pre-term miscarriage.

An investigation was launched on June 14 but the woman involved has been unable to be found.

The incident has raised alarm bells with prisoner advocacy groups who fear women aren’t receiving adequate healthcare while in custody.

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Gloria Larman, chief executive of the Women’s Justice Network, told 9news.com.au she was stumped as to how a woman was left to miscarry in a prison without support.

“How did this happen?” she said.

“If all their systems are in place, how did she not get picked up?”

Lawyer and Sisters Inside founder Debbie Kilroy said she was aware of multiple instances where women have miscarried, suffered stillbirth or given birth to premature babies who have later died in hospital but there was little information on record.

She said in order to identify whether women are receiving the appropriate healthcare, the federal government must expand its National Deaths in Custody database to include miscarriages and stillbirths.

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“The biggest issue that we find is that when this happens to babies in prison they are not deemed a death in custody, because they say technically they’re not in custody – but they are,” Kilroy said.

Kilroy, who has been working with women inside and outside the prison system for over three decades, said that care for pregnant women in custody “is an issue and it’s an ongoing issue”.

“But we don’t actually know how huge the issue is because we don’t have the data,” she said.

“Women are harmed and babies have died, but we don’t know how substantial that is.”

Dillwynia Correctional Centre was at the centre of an unrelated 2019 inquiry into sexual offending by former corrections Officer Wayne Astill.

The report handed down 31 recommendations surrounding failed procedural requirements and complaint-handling systems.

Astill, who was convicted and jailed in 2023 for a maximum of 23 years including aggravated sexual and indecent assault, is appealing his convictions.

According to a 2022 report published by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 164 women received into custody in 2021 were pregnant.

The report found women who became pregnant either before or during incarceration were likely to have poorer birth outcomes, including having babies of low birth weight.

Larman agreed the government should expand the national database to increase transparency but structural change needs begin from the inside.

“What’s happening, what has happened after the Astill Inquiry?” she said.

“They’re talking about changes for women but we can’t really see much change.

“There’s a huge power difference between prison officers, so they need to have more support programs to build trust with the women so they can feel comfortable disclosing information.”

A spokesperson for Corrective Services NSW told 9news.com.au the woman who miscarried is yet to be identified, nearly a month on.

“Nurses and midwives from Justice Health and the Forensic Mental Health Network checked female patients with known pregnancies, and all are confirmed healthy and well,” the spokesperson said.

“All women at the centre have been offered medical assistance if required.

“Corrective Services NSW and Justice Health are working closely to identify the woman involved as soon as possible to ensure her safety and wellbeing.”

A Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network spokesperson said it was offering increased support and medical assistance to women within Dillwynia since the incident.

“Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network (Justice Health NSW) offers a range of support to women on entry and during their time in custody,” the spokesperson said.

“The health and wellbeing of all women in the centre remains our focus.”

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