Australian Institute of Criminology

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Deaths in custody down, Aboriginal deaths up

Media Release

12 July 2000

The Australian Institute of Criminology today released its latest report on Deaths in Custody. This report covered the period to the end of 1999.

In releasing the report, Australian Institute of Criminology Director Dr Adam Graycar noted that there were 85 deaths in custody in 1999. The number of deaths reported during the year was 11.7% lower than the 95 reported in 1998, and 23.5% lower than the 105 deaths reported during 1997. "We hope that this downward trend continues" said Dr Graycar, "but over the years the numbers have gone up and down quite inexplicably". The report was compiled by Research Analyst Vicki Dalton, who is presently on secondment to the ACT Department of Corrective Services.

Key features:

Of the 85 deaths in 1999, 26 occurred in police custody or custody-related police operations (the second lowest number in a decade), and 59 in prison custody. No juveniles died in the custody of juvenile welfare/justice agencies during the year.

Almost one quarter of the deaths were of Aboriginal people. 23% of the deaths in police custody were of Aboriginal people, as were 22% of the deaths in prison custody. Aboriginal people comprise 2 per cent of the adult population.

There were more Aboriginal deaths in institutional custody in 1999 than in any previous years except 1987 and 1995.

The Australian Institute of Criminology has compiled data on deaths of Aboriginal people over time. In the decade prior to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 12.1% of all prison deaths were of Indigenous people. During the last decade, this proportion has risen to 17.6%. During 1999, 22% of all prison deaths were of Indigenous people.

Dr Graycar pointed out that the pattern of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths differed - significantly more Aboriginal people died from natural causes than from hanging. Overall, hanging was the most frequent cause of death, accounting for 34% of all deaths in custody in 1999, and 44% of prison deaths.