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Parole made central to inquest of Indigenous mother-of-three's death in custody

Jarred Cross -

An inquest into the death of an Indigenous mother-of-three who died in police custody in 2021 will examine prison healthcare and parole law, as determined at the Victorian Coroners Court on Monday.

Yamatji, Noongar, Wongi and Pitjantjatjara woman Heather Calgaret died at Sunshine Hospital in November 2021 after being found in a critical condition by her sister at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre Prison, in Melbourne's west.

In a release on Monday, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, who is supporting Ms Calcaret's family, said the processes of her parole application, delays in its assessment, programs and support available to Ms Calgaret for parole and to access suitable accommodation will be looked at.

"VALS understands that this is the first time a Victorian Coroner will examine the state's parole process in relation to a passing since the toughening of parole laws," VALS said.

Ms Calgaret had been eligible for parole for almost 12 months prior to her death, and submitted a parole application in mid-May 2021 before it was denied the that October due to a lack of suitable accommodation.

She was eligible for release in February, 2022.

The inquest will also examine whether an 8mg dose of Buprenorphine, an opioid-dependency replacement medicine, administered the day before being found unconscious contributed to her death.

VALS lawyer Sarah Schwartz said Ms Calgaret's family "deserve answers and justice".

"Heather's family believe that she was unfairly denied parole in the year before her death at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre Prison. They have fought hard to convince the Court to examine Heather's parole application and they have won that fight," Ms Schwartz said.

"It is a huge achievement and a testament to their strength and perseverance over more than two years now."

According to AAP, reforms to Victoria's parole system in 2015 made expiration of a non-parole period treated as only a target date, with all relevant material considered before parole is granted.

Ms Calgaret's mother, Aunty Jenny Calgaret said she has put pieces in place to accommodate her daughter.

"I got my house specifically so that Heather and Suzzane could stay here when they got parole. I had it set up right and we were all so excited," Aunty Jenny said.

"I don't understand why they blamed the house when they rejected parole, it didn't make any sense. I would have looked after Heather. The whole family would have supported her. There's no way she would have died if she was living with us.

"I just think that if she got parole, she wouldn't have died. I was trying to help manage her health while she was in prison, but I couldn't support her from the outside. They did not give her the healthcare she deserved."

Ms Schwatrz said "Victoria's parole system is a disaster", unfair, punitive, and one disproportionately impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women like Ms Calgaret.

"The parole system in Victoria makes it harder for people to be supported in the community, discriminates against people who don't have access to housing, and steals away people's lives," she said.

"The parole system is making communities less safe."

Ms Calgaret's sister, Suzanne, said she is forced to live with terrible memories, and having also lost her brother to a death in custody, people learning the truth about her sister's passing "is the only way this will stop".

"I never thought in a million years that I'd ever be witness to something so horrific," she said.

"It's been two years, still wake up in that place to my dead sister. I live with that every day. It's f****d my life. No one should have to feel the way me and mum do."

"My nieces and nephews won't get to grow up with their mum. If Heather got proper healthcare, if she was allowed out on parole, her children would get to grow up with their mum. How is all this fair on them?"

The inquest into Ms Calgaret's death is due to begin on April 29.


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