• Wiradjuri man Bailey Mackander died in custody on 6 November 2016. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
The 20-year-old's family gave emotional testimony at the inquest into his 2019 death, where the NSW Deputy State Coroner said she was hopeful "change will happen."
Nadine Silva

23 Oct 2021 - 11:40 AM  UPDATED 23 Oct 2021 - 11:48 AM

WARNING: This story contains distressing content.

The family of Wiradjuri man Bailey Mackander has pleaded for change within the justice system as an inquest resumed into the 20-year-old's death in custody.

“If there were more caring people in the world, my son would still be here,” his father David Mackander told the court on Friday.

The New South Wales Deputy Coroner apologised for the "ongoing nightmare" the family has had to endure since his death on November 6, 2019.

“There has to be a heap of change… It has to stop,” Elaine Truscott said, “no family should go through what you’ve gone through.”

Bailey died from injuries sustained after jumping over a wall as he escaped custody while being escorted from Gosford Hospital back to Kariong Correctional Centre, where he was being held on remand for drug and driving offences.

The court heard his death was the “result of a complex and tragic series of events”.

In the days leading up to his death, the inquest heard that Bailey was moved to an assessment or "safe" cell.

He became distressed, felt isolated and alone, and was screaming out for help using the cell's intercom system.

Counsel assisting Tracey Stevens told the court there was no comprehensive assessment of Bailey’s mental state.

“The response by Corrective Service officers to his distress was dismissive and invalidating,” she said.

Deputy Coroner Truscott heard that Bailey had reported swallowing batteries and razor blades and was then taken to the hospital for treatment.

After being discharged, he was guided away in handcuffs by two NSW Corrections Officers.

The court was told that one of the officers did not recall the policy that required the handcuffs to be held.

"In his words, he did not want to put any extra stress on Bailey while putting him in the van,” said Tracey Stevens.

Ms Stevens said the court was in a position to make the finding that his death was not a deliberate act of suicide but was likely "an impulsive and desperate" attempt to avoid returning to custody and "the conditions of the assessment cell."

“There was no opportunity for Bailey to look over the wall and observe the eight-meter distance,” she said.

'I lost my beautiful boy'

Bailey's family told the court of his struggle following the death of his little sister in 2013 and how he began using drugs to deal with the loss.

“Sometimes I feel that I didn’t give him the time that I needed because I was grieving myself,” David Mackander said.

“I believe he went onto ice because he couldn’t deal with the addiction and pain he was suffering.”

David said the family tried to get Bailey help and into rehabilitation centres many times but was only successful once due to long waitlists.

He also read the court a letter written by Bailey that was found in his belongings after he died, that articulated how he wanted to get back on track.

"I have decided I would do everything in my power to get a court order to rehab or at least make sure it’s the first thing I do when I walk out of this place,"

"I want to do rehab not only for myself but I want my family back. I feel so lost and alone and have felt like this for months now. It’s the most horrible and terrible feeling anyone could have.

"I love you so much. I can’t have you not in my life.”

- Except from letter by Bailey Mackander.

"We could offer young adults the help they need instead of just throwing them straight into jail," David Mackander said.

“I can't explain enough just how angry I am with the system… The whole system needs to change.”

The inquest heard three Indigenous elders were available to see Bailey at the Kariong centre but were not called, and also that Corrective Services NSW had repeatedly dismissed requests from Bailey’s mother Tracy to speak to her son in his final moments.

"I have experienced darkness and my heart is broken in many pieces," Tracy said.

"I lost my beautiful boy, he was just 20 years old and he's gone forever.

"I know that systematic failures are responsible for Bailey’s death ... I can only hope that when the Coroner hands down her findings, that there’ll be some accountability.”

'How many more'

Bailey’s stepmother Melissa Mackander said their family struggled to know they couldn’t protect him before he died.

“Our families have to go on living with the emotional torture he endured, the belittling he received, and the lack of dignity care and respect he was not afforded at the time in his life when he was begging for help," she said.

“Our faith was put into Corrective Services to look after our son. Instead, we sat there holding his hand as his life support was turned off.

“How many more children have to die whilst in custody for the system to make its change? How loud do we need to scream out - no more deaths?”

Deputy Coroner Truscott was hopeful "change will happen."

“Young people who are struggling with substance abuse and families who are pleading for help are not getting it and then they’re put up in prisons,” she said.

“If there was a place he could have gone to at his age rather than a prison, that opportunity should have been available.

“Poor Bailey, he was just a boy.

"A beautiful boy in a not-so-beautiful system." 

Deputy Coroner Truscott will hand down her findings on November 9.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.

‘I can’t breathe’: prison guards ignored Bailey Mackander’s pleas for help, inquest hears
The family of Wiradjuri man Bailey Mackander relive their son’s final recorded moments as the court heard him beg correctional officers to let him out of the observational cell he described as “torture”.