A First Nations woman who died in custody on Christmas Eve had complained of severe migraines in the weeks before she was taken to hospital, her partner says.
Dannielle Lowe, a West Australian woman, died in hospital after experiencing an unspecified medical episode at the Wandoo rehabilitation prison at Murdoch in Perth’s south on 21 December. She was 41.
Lowe is being remembered as a “beautiful” person who leaves behind eight children, her youngest being three years old.
Debbie Kilroy, the founder of Sisters Inside, an advocacy group for incarcerated women, said prisons needed to ensure detainees received the same care that they would in the “outside world”.
Kilroy said Lowe had worked hard to turn her life around. She had completed the prison’s rehab program and would have attended the graduation ceremony on Thursday.
“It’s clearly distressing for the family,” she said. “Eight children have lost their mother … women who were in prison with Dannielle are grieving.
“Dannielle was a beautiful person. She was fun. She always helped other women … and she was trying to do everything she possibly could to get out of prison so that she could be with her family and get on with her life in a positive way.”
Lowe’s partner, Carrum Mourambine, said she called him on the day of her death, as she did every morning. Neither of them knew that it would be the last time they would speak.
That afternoon the prison called Mourambine and told him Lowe was unresponsive and had been taken to Fiona Stanley hospital. She died three days later.
Mourambine said Lowe told him she had been experiencing “massive migraines”. He said Lowe told him that when she raised her pain with prison staff she was given Panadol, but he said they took no further action.
“She rang up crying sometimes because she just couldn’t take the pain,” Mourambine said.
There have been 516 Indigenous deaths in custody between the royal commission handing down its report in 1991 and June 2022, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology.
Three days after Lowe’s death, another First Nations person died at a Geraldton prison. The 45-year-old man was pronounced dead after he collapsed playing basketball.
The state’s Department of Justice said reports would be prepared for the coroner and mandatory inquests will be held.
Mourambine said Lowe’s three-year-old daughter was struggling to understand what has happened. “[She] asked me this morning if we’d go back to hospital and see her,” he said.
“Trying to explain to a baby that mummy’s passed, it’s a very difficult thing to explain to a three-year-old.”
The Department of Justice said it was “committed to ensuring health care and treatment is provided to all people under the department’s care”.
A spokesperson said the department had “progressively introduced policies and programs to protect and improve the health and safety of Aboriginal prisoners”, including the creation of the Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee.
They said Lowe’s case “is now subject to a coronial investigation and inquest within the jurisdiction of the state coroner and as such it is not appropriate for the department to comment further”.