Suicides expose failings in Stanley Prison

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am


The negligence of prison officers and red tape prevented the timely delivery of medical aid to inmates who hanged themselves in Stanley Prison, an inquest found.

The jury recommended that patrol officers keep better records of prisoners and that the Correctional Services Department devise an alternative to prisoners' bed sheets, which were used in five suicides over the course of eight months.

The five-day inquest heard that one patrol staff member was late four times in five hours while checking on inmates with psychiatric illnesses. In another instance, an ambulance, called after an inmate was found hanging in his cell, had to wait for more than 10 minutes before Stanley Prison opened the gates to let it in.

The department said it would seriously consider the Coroner's Court recommendations. 'We will adopt all feasible procedures to ... identify people who are emotionally unstable, physically unwell and suffer from psychological distress to prevent them from committing suicide or self-destructive behaviour,' it said.

The jury ruled unanimously yesterday that the five inmates died of suicide and gave a list of suggestions, including:

Deploying staff to open the gates after an ambulance is called for emergencies;

Improving the training of front-line staff in detecting suicides; and

Ensuring inmates are monitored when staff change shifts.

The court heard that transport worker Cheung Wai-keung, sentenced to four years' imprisonment last May for burglary and assault, was transferred to Stanley Prison for solitary confinement on May 24. He was found hanging in his cell on May 27.

Yip Kwok-leung, an ambulance worker, told the court his team had to wait more than 10 minutes before the prison gates were opened. He said such a wait was not exceptional.

Lam Chung-san, sentenced to six years and eight months in 2008 for armed robbery, was transferred to Stanley Prison in April 2009. Lam, who had a history of psychiatric illness, was on a special medical observation list - meaning a patrol officer checked on him every 15 minutes.

Assistant officer Pang Ka-fai was on duty on December 2, 2009. Coroner Michael Chan Pik-kiu examined Pang's patrol records for the day and criticised him for being late. Pang admitted in court that he had 'sat down to take a rest' on duty.

Lam hanged himself from the window frame in his solitary cell. He was pronounced dead the next day.

Construction worker Choi Yau-ming was sentenced to three years and four months last year for drug trafficking and other crimes. Assistant officer Lam Wai-on, who discovered that Choi had hanged himself on February 6, said he had no key to Choi's cell for security reasons. He called for help and his colleagues rushed to open the cell, but Choi was not breathing.

Taxi driver Lam Chin-fat, sentenced last year to four months for driving under the influence of drugs, hanged himself in Pak Sha Wan prison on August 17. The court heard that an inmate who shared Lam's cell found him hanging in the toilet but did nothing.

Tang Wai-tung, 33, on remand in Stanley Prison on drug trafficking charges, hanged himself on June 27 while in solitary confinement.