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Family of young Noongar man who died in custody urges inquest to shine spotlight on systemic crisis

Giovanni Torre -

The family of Ricky-Lee Cound, a 22-year-old Noongar man who died in Hakea prison in March 2022, has called for justice for Ricky, and for all families who have lost loved ones in custody.

An inquest into the death of Mr Cound began on Monday.

His mother, Laura Cound, said she wanted "to get justice for my Ricky".

"Ricky died at the hands of the prison system. A racist system that sees too many young Aboriginal men enter and not enough leave," she said.

"The conditions our mob are put under within WA prisons... the lockdowns (held in their cells for prolonged periods due to staff shortages), lack of mental health care; it's like putting petrol on fire.

"We have stood with too many families, Aboriginal families, who have lost their sons, sisters, fathers in custody. These families like ours, are broken by these deaths. The system has failed us all."

Ms Cound noted that there were numerous attempts by her family and by Ricky himself to get help for him prior to his death in custody.

"The were so many chances for Hakea to support my son, but they were missed each and every time. On the day my son died, he asked for help. He cried out for and was denied (being kept in one of the) observation cells. But this fell on deaf ears.

"A cry for crisis care unit fell on deaf ears.... We need Hakea prison, the guards, and the whole system to answer for this death."

She said families were forced to wait years for inquests, and noted that the long delay makes it less likely to get to the truth.

"I have been asking myself why this happened for the past two years. Now the Coroner must ask them (prison staff) ... I've been waiting for two years and a couple of weeks for this day. And then they get in court and say 'I don't remember'," she said.

Friends and family of the late Ricky-Lee Cound outside the inquest into his death. Image: Sonia Murray (National Indigenous Times)

Ms Cound noted that video link ups to court proceedings and inquests should be used for inmates, not staff.

"The officers at the Hakea prison come on a video link... Where is the respect for me and my family That video link up is for prisoners, not for guards, so I'd like these guards to come in person and show respect to this family because they denied my son’s life," she said.

"Please help me and my family. We are broken and no one, no one's come near us."

The National Justice Project is supporting Mr Cound's family in the proceedings.

On Tuesday NJP chief executive George Newhouse said: “This is yet another terrible death in the WA prison system."

"Ricky-Lee’s family have been through over two years of distress and trauma and are urging the Coroner to properly examine not just the death but wider systemic issues. These include how we can provide culturally safe care and support inside prisons, how mental health treatment should be delivered and how the prison system can change to protect prisoners and to provide therapeutic care. Otherwise more young men will continue to die and more families will suffer," he said.


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