By Phoebe Hosier, Edith Bevin and Tamara Glumac
The union representing Tasmania’s prison workers wants an “urgent review” into the circumstances behind the release of a mentally ill inmate who stabbed a Hobart shopkeeper to death in her grocery store.
The judge ordered 36-year-old Mr Cook be detained in a secure mental health facility indefinitely.
The ABC understands he is at the Wilfred Lopes Centre for Mental Health, near Risdon Prison.
Voula Delios, a popular 68-year-old North Hobart grocer, died at her shop after being stabbed 22 times, in broad daylight, in 2016.
During the trial, Tasmanian director of public prosecutions Daryl Coates told the jury “the crime where Mrs Delios was brutally killed has no apparent sane reason”.
The trial had been told the diagnosed schizophrenic was in the grip of a psychotic episode at the time of the attack and believed Mrs Delios was a heathen who God wanted him to kill.
Mr Cook was released from Risdon Prison on July 22, the day before Mrs Delios was killed.
The court heard Mr Cook had been displaying signs of being in the grip of psychotic delusions for months before his release but was not taken seriously because prison staff believed he was “faking”.
The secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union Tom Lynch said there should be an urgent review into how Mr Cook came to be released.
“How somebody in the middle of a severe mental breakdown was able to leave prison and then carry out a dreadful crime is very worrying,” he said.
Tom Lynch says someone in the middle of a mental breakdown should not be released from prison. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)
“Let’s review what happened here, what could have been done better to ensure the guy [Mr Cook] got support and the community got protection.”
Mr Lynch said Tasmania “wasn’t doing very well” at ensuring inmates were reintegrated into the community.
“The resourcing for dealing with inmates leaving the prison is extremely low,” he said.
“I certainly don’t think correctional officers would receive the sort of training to assess if somebody was in the middle of a severe mental breakdown or, as we’ve heard in this case, may be putting it on.”
Tragedies will continue, prison advocate says
The trial was told Mr Cook had spent the last 12 months of his time before the stabbing in Risdon’s Tamar Unit — a behavioural management unit — rather than secure mental health centre Wilfred Lopes.
He was prescribed anti-psychotic medication but because it was voluntary he often stopped taking it.
Mr Cook was given a three-month sentence discount by the prison and had been showing clear signs of a psychotic episode for at least two months before his release.
Prisoner advocate and barrister Greg Barns believes the case highlights failures in the system.
“We do not have a prison system that puts mental health first despite the fact that the vast majority of prisoners have either had or have a mental illness,” he said.
“What we do is use a 19th century model of locking people up in relatively primitive environments and we have a small acute mental health facility when, in fact, one could argue if should be the other way around.
“Until the community understands you get tragedies if you do not treat people well within the prison system, when they’re released we are going to continue to see tragic events.”
Policy officer with Community Legal Centres Tasmania, Ben Bartl, said a lack of resourcing was to blame, including a funding cut to the Reintegration of Ex-Offenders program.
The program helped ex-inmates find supported accommodation after their release from prison.
“This falls on the State Government,” he said.
“Where is the duty of care to the community to ensure that people exiting prison have the support they need?”
The State Government has been contacted for comment.