Veronica Nelson’s family members, friends and supporters
Tuesday marked 12 months since a coroner handed down findings into the death of Veronica Nelson. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • crime, law and justice

Renewed calls for reform after death of Veronica Nelson

Rachael Ward January 31, 2024

The Victorian government has been accused of dragging its feet on reforms to prison healthcare standards, which have left people to suffer.

That’s according to the managing lawyer of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, as the organisation steps up calls for a review into deaths in custody and better healthcare in prisons.

Tuesday marked 12 months since a coroner handed down findings into the death of Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Veronica Nelson in a prison cell in 2020.

The 37-year old was arrested for breaching bail and suspicion of shoplifting.

Her death was ruled preventable and the findings sparked changes to the state’s bail laws designed to make it easier for lower-level offenders to get bail.

The legal service said while some important reforms had been implemented the government needed to address other issues highlighted by the coroner.

They included concerns with prison healthcare and changes needed to reviews of deaths in custody.

“The Victorian government has only made piecemeal reforms to prison healthcare policies,” principal managing lawyer Sarah Schwartz said.

“(It) has not implemented the on-the-ground changes or independent and rigorous scrutiny of prison healthcare, which we need to prevent further deaths.”

She said women in custody have told her “nothing has changed” since Ms Nelson’s death.

“The government is dragging its feet on critical changes and people continue to die in custody and suffer because of neglectful prison healthcare,” she added.

Ms Nelson’s partner Uncle Percy Lovett said the government needed to make big changes.

“Blackfullas should be able to get healthcare from the Aboriginal Health Service,” he said.

“They should have the same doctors and nurses as in the community.”

The relaxation of the state’s bail laws passed Parliament in October and are intended to reduce the number of people on remand.

They come into force in the first half of 2024 and will be reviewed after two years.

The Victorian government has been contacted for comment.