Australian Institute of Criminology

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Overview of all deaths in custody

Overview of all deaths

The NDICP database holds information for 32 financial years from 1979–80 to 2010–11 and contains details relating to 2,319 individual custodial deaths (see Table 6) that include:

  • 1,393 deaths in prison custody;
  • 903 deaths in police custody and custody-related operations;
  • 18 deaths in the custody of juvenile justice agencies; and
  • five deaths in the custody of an ‘other/Australian Government’ agency (which includes deaths in Australian Federal Police custody).

The majority of deaths recorded by the NDICP are of non-Indigenous persons (81%, n=1,870), with Indigenous persons accounting for 19 percent (n=449 of all custodial deaths.

Overall trends in deaths in custody by custodial authority

Over the 32 financial years for which data are available, there have been three distinct trends in the total number of deaths in custody (see Figure 3).

  • from the decade 1979–80 to 1989–90, where the total number of deaths in custody increased considerably;
  • from 1991–92, the number of deaths started to level out and remained stable over the ensuing period to 1998–99; and
  • between 1999–2000 and 2005–06, there was a decline in deaths.

While data after 2005–06 has indicated that deaths in custody are again on the rise, annual totals in recent years remain lower than those seen a decade ago. A fourth order polynomial regression model confirmed this pattern in deaths since 1979–80 (the dotted line in Figure 3 highlights the trend).

Table 6 Custodial deaths by custodial authority, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Prison Police Juvenile justice Other/Australian Government Total
1979–80 15 5 1 0 21
1980–81 29 12 1 0 42
1981–82 27 15 0 0 42
1982–83 25 22 0 0 47
1983–84 33 14 1 0 48
1984–85 27 21 0 0 48
1985–86 18 20 0 0 38
1986–87 37 42 1 0 80
1987–88 44 23 2 0 69
1988–89 37 29 0 0 66
1989–90 53 29 1 0 83
1990–91 35 26 1 0 62
1991–92 31 25 0 0 56
1992–93 43 38 0 0 81
1993–94 57 31 2 0 90
1994–95 55 30 0 0 85
1995–96 49 31 2 0 82
1996–97 63 34 1 0 98
1997–98 81 28 0 0 109
1998–99 64 21 1 1 87
1999–00 64 36 1 0 101
2000–01 58 34 1 1 94
2001–02 53 42 0 1 96
2002–03 44 41 0 0 85
2003–04 39 42 0 0 81
2004–05 39 36 0 1 76
2005–06 28 24 1 1 54
2006–07 40 31 0 0 71
2007–08 46 34 0 0 80
2008–09 43 36 0 0 79
2009–10 58 27 0 0 85
2010–11 58 24 1 0 83
Total 1,393 903 18 5 2,319

Source: AIC NDICP 1979–80 to 2010–11 [computer file]

Figure 3 Trends in deaths in custody by custodial authority and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)

Note: ‘Police’ includes deaths in both police custody (Category 1) and during custody-related operations (Category 2). Category 2 deaths have been included since 1 January 1990

Source: AIC NDICP 1979–80 to 2010–11 [computer file]