Prison fatality could not have been caused by coffee alone

NO ONE seems to know how a Capricornia Correctional Centre prisoner had caffeine levels equivalent to 20 espresso coffees in his system the night he died.

In a coroner's report published by state coroner Terry Ryan, details of the prisoner, John Michael Spence's, death indicates the 51-year-old died on September 4, 2013, at the Capricornia Correctional Centre's health centre with 64mg/kg of caffeine in his system.

However an expert in the forensic field suggested in the report the source of the caffeine could not have been coffee alone and that the levels at the time of death could have been as high as 80mg/kg, a potentially fatal level.

A toxicologist said in the report, "following the ingestion of caffeine, the peak concentration was likely to be achieved within an hour of ingestion and most likely within 30 minutes".

The coroner's report confirmed cause of death was "the combined effects of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and seizure activity, in the setting of excessive caffeine use," however the source of the caffeine is still a mystery, despite two 100g cans of coffee being purchased through the prison canteen by the prisoner in the months leading up to his death.

It was concluded in a court hearing earlier this month that while the prisoner "died from natural causes, the level of caffeine in his blood was unnatural and undoubtedly contributed to his death".

A Queensland Police Service spokesperson said the matter was thoroughly investigated including examination of the policies and processes of both the correctional facility and hospital in relation to interactions with the deceased.

"Despite all investigations, a source of the caffeine was unable to be determined," the spokesperson said.

"A report was forwarded to the Coroner and the matter is now finalised."

In a recent court case held in the Rockhampton District Court however, an accusation was made by a defendant that a Capricornia prisoner was dealing drugs out of the prison.

It was heard in court a sample of methamphetamine was delivered to the defendant's home "from a man they knew who was serving time at the Capricornia Correctional Centre," despite a recent Morning Bulletin report that showed the facility had a very low drug detection rate.

The report found that there had only been 28 drug, alcohol or tobacco seizures at the centre over the past two years compared to 89 at Maryborough's prison.

LNP opposition police Minister Jarrod Bleijie said any allegations about drugs in correctional centres were extremely concerning.

"If there is any truth to this (the relevant government department) must immediately investigate and take action," Mr Bleijie said. "In 2012 the LNP government introduced the toughest laws against synthetic drugs in the country.

In doing so we closed loopholes in the legislation making it easy for offenders to escape charges."

The Department of Justice was contacted yesterday for comment but was unavailable before the time of print.

Topics:  caffeine capricornia correctional centre death in custody

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