Drug abuse and illness characterised Jay Maree Harmer's adult life. Her death has been a catalyst for calls to reform palliative care for prisoners.
Drug abuse and illness characterised Jay Maree Harmer's adult life. Her death has been a catalyst for calls to reform palliative care for prisoners. Kat Smith

Girl whose dreams vanished inspires call for change

AS A girl, she dreamed of growing up to be a police detective.

Instead, Jay Maree Harmer spent much of her adulthood as a petty criminal after drug addiction tore that dream apart.

She died in jail aged 38.

But now, the Ipswich mother's death has led a coroner to suggest multiple reforms around treating sick prisoners.

In findings published on Monday, State Coroner Terry Ryan said available jail facilities for terminally-ill inmates were "generally inadequate”.

He said improvements should be considered for how to house unwell prisoners eligible for parole.

Mr Ryan said in light of "Queensland's burgeoning prison population” such inmates, where appropriate, should go from maximum security jails to other places better able to manage their health.

Secondly, Mr Ryan urged Corrective Services to develop a policy for training and managing prisoner carers.

Ms Harmer was found dead in jail on July 2, 2016 after applying for special parole.

Her cellmate and carer found her dead.

The carer would help Ms Harmer shower, dress, and clean her cell.

Mr Ryan urged the Government to help the Parole Board access any medical and psychological reports tendered during sentencing.

Mr Ryan also suggested improved information-sharing between QCS and Queensland Health when parole applications were prepared.

The coroner also recommended QCS and the Parole Board prepare guidelines for doctors addressing "exceptional circumstances parole” applications.

Ms Harmer was at Brisbane Women's Prison, Wacol, which had an opioid replacement program but no full-time palliative care.

At the inquest in April, the Parole Board's Peter Shields said older people jailed for past sex offences were straining prison healthcare.

He said finding suitable housing for them was hard and major funds were needed to "unlock accommodation”.

Brisbane Coroners Court heard if someone needed palliative care, their risk to the community was minimal.

The inquest heard prisoners like Ms Harmer could be treated at Princess Alexandra Hospital, or ask for special circumstances parole.

Ms Harmer's special parole application was deferred while medical opinion was sought.

Against medical advice, she asked to return to prison instead of stay in hospital.

The Harmer family barrister Janice Crawford told the inquest that "did not indicate a refusal of nursing support”.

Mr Ryan said Ms Harmer dreamed of being a detective but developed severe drug addiction after Year 10.

She spiralled into drug-related offences like theft.

The Coroner found Ms Harmer's death was linked to decompensated liver failure, due to or as a consequence of cirrhosis.

That cirrhosis was secondary to hepatitis C with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a type of liver damage.

Ms Harmer also had iron deficiency, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.

She was the oldest of seven children and had three children of her own.

Mr Ryan extended his condolences to her family. -NewsRegional