The family of an Aboriginal man who died in prison has disputed a finding he took his own life saying he had ‘everything to live for’.
The family of an Aboriginal man who died in prison has continued to dispute a coronial inquest that deemed his death a suicide.
Tane Chatfield was 22 when he passed after being found inside a cell at Tamworth Correctional Facility in September, 2017.
His family continues to question the coronial findings, saying it wouldn’t make any sense for Mr Chatfield to take his own life when he was on the verge on gaining his freedom after two years behind bars on remand.
“Tane had everything to live for,” his grandmother Lesley Vale told the NSW Upper House inquiry into First Nations deaths in custody on Thursday.
The hearing was held by a select committee established in June to investigate why so many Aboriginal people die behind bars.
Across Australia, at least 441 Aboriginal people have died in custody since a 1991 royal commission into the issue.
Aboriginal people make up 27 per cent of the country’s prison population despite constituting only two per cent of the national population.
“We will continue to say the system killed our son. We weren’t born to die in prison,” the man’s father, Colin Chatfield, said.
The family members who testified also included Mr Chatfields mother, sisters, and partner.
Speaking through tears and clutching a tissue, Merinda Connor told the hearing about her grief of having her partner locked up only a year after their son was born, and raising the child without his father after he died.
“There are no words to explain how I feel to see so much hurt and pain in my little boy’s eyes. Especially when he sees other kids with their dads, knowing he won’t get that with his dad,” Ms Connor said.
Mr Chatfield had returned to his cell after a hospital visit for seizures when he was found by another inmate who peered through a peephole in the door, Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame wrote in her August report.
She concluded he had been alone in his cell and that the death was self-inflicted.
But Mr Chatfield’s family told the hearing they doubt that conclusion and feel as if the police and corrections system are to blame for his demise.
Ms Grahame also acknowledged that belief in her report.
“(Mr Chatfield’s mother) told me directly that Tane was killed by the prison system. I acknowledge the truth and pain of her words,” Ms Grahame wrote.
Family members said there should be greater involvement for families of deceased prisoners in cause of death probes, and that more Aboriginal officials need to be trained and employed to take part in the process.
They also called for a second Royal Commission into Indigenous deaths in custody, and demanded Aboriginal prisoners on remand to be released.
“Tane sat on remand for just under two years, without a court date set for his trial … When he finally got his moment in court, Tane had proven his innocence in a two-week trial,” Mr Chatfield’s father said.
“On the day he was to be released, he was found dead… We believe he did not inflict this on himself.”