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'Coronial inquests, academic research and the suicide of vulnerable populations'

1:00pm - 3:00pm / Monday 23rd October 2023 / Venue: Ground Floor - Event Space School of Law & Social Justice
Type: Seminar / Category: Research
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Professor Belinda Carpenter (QUT)

Belinda Carpenter is a Professor in the School of Justice at Queensland University of Technology. Between 2015 and 2020 she was Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Law and prior to this served two terms as Head of School of Justice (2003-2005 and 2008-2009). Belinda has two areas of Research strength: sex crimes and death investigation, and has published extensively in both areas.

Coronial inquests, academic research and the suicide of vulnerable populations.

One purpose of coronial inquests is to investigate deaths in the ‘public interest’ – deaths that warrant further scrutiny due to the characteristics of the deceased, or uncertainty over the circumstances of the death, or where institutional lessons may be learnt. Suspected suicides in prison or in care warrant such scrutiny. We are particularly interested in how academic research and resultant expert testimony can work hand in hand with coronial findings to perpetuate common sense understandings of the ways in which such vulnerable populations take their own lives, and what can be done to prevent such deaths. Using the coronial reports of 129 inquests in one state of Australia, people incarcerated in prisons, and institutionalised in mental health care facilities are compared to explore the ways in which their suspected suicide deaths are differently understood by coroners, experts and academics. Positioning inquests as a contested site for a finding of suicide, we conclude that a feedback loop between coroners, expert witnesses and researchers serve to validate only the suicide of patients in mental health facilities as preventable, while the suicide of incarcerated prisoners is both unpredictable and inevitable.