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Deaths in juvenile justice custody

Key indicators of performance

The NDICP reports on the following three high-level indicators for deaths in juvenile justice custody:

  • trends in number of deaths juvenile detention and the proportion of deaths involving Indigenous persons;
  • trends in rate–ratio for Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in juvenile detention; and
  • trends in causes and circumstances of deaths in juvenile detention.
Table 37 Key indicators of performance—juvenile justice custody deaths, 2008–09
Juvenile justice
1 Indigenous No deaths
Non-Indigenous No deaths
2 Rate–ratio—Indigenous
Rate–ratio—non-Indigenous
3a Main cause—Indigenous
Main cause—non-Indigenous
3b Main circumstances—Indigenous
Main circumstances—non-Indigenous

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

Table 38 Key indicators of performance—juvenile justice custody deaths, 2009–10
Juvenile justice
1 Indigenous No deaths
Non-Indigenous No deaths
2 Rate–ratio—Indigenous
Rate–ratio—Non-Indigenous
3a Main cause—Indigenous
Main cause—non-Indigenous
3b Main circumstances—Indigenous
Main circumstances—non-Indigenous

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

Table 39 Key indicators of performance—juvenile justice custody deaths, 2010–11
Juvenile justice
1 Indigenous 1 (100.0%)
Non-Indigenous 0
2 Rate—Indigenous
Rate—non-Indigenous
3a Main cause—Indigenous Head injury—(100%; n=1)
Main cause—non-Indigenous
3b Main circumstances—Indigenous Accidental—(100%; n=1)
Main circumstances—non-Indigenous

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

Introduction

The NDICP collects information about all deaths occurring in juvenile detention, which includes transfer to or from detention, or deaths occurring in hospital involving juveniles that were transferred there from a detention facility.

It is possible in some jurisdictions for a juvenile to be temporarily placed in a detention or secure training facility for welfare reasons, while a more suitable residential arrangement is found. Welfare reasons include the juvenile being at risk of self harm or harm to others, or there may be the need to use a room in a detention facility or secure training centre as emergency accommodation for a juvenile in the process of being transferred between locations. In the event that a juvenile dies while in a detention or secure training facility for welfare reasons, the death would be reportable to the relevant state coroner and would also fall within the scope of the NDICP.

The NDICP does not capture deaths of juveniles serving a community-based order. Also excluded are deaths of juveniles who are under the guardianship of the state (ie wards of the state) for welfare reasons and who are being cared for by a designated carer or institution. Finally, deaths of children in foster care are also outside the scope of the NDICP.

Demographic characteristics

Indigenous status

Since 1979–80, there have been a total of 18 deaths in the custody of a juvenile justice agency (see Table 40). Overall, the number of non-Indigenous deaths in juvenile justice custody (56%; n=10) is slightly higher than the number of Indigenous deaths (44%; n=8). Available data showed that the overall number of Indigenous deaths has never risen above one death per year. It is also of interest to note that for almost 10 years between the late 1980s and the mid 1990s, there were no deaths involving an Indigenous person in juvenile justice custody.

Table 40 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by Indigenous status and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Indigenous Non-Indigenous Total n
1979–80 1 0 1
1980–81 1 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0
1983–84 0 1 1
1984–85 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 1
1987–88 1 1 2
1988–89 0 0 0
1989–90 0 1 1
1990–91 0 1 1
1991–92 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0
1993–94 0 2 2
1994–95 0 0 0
1995–96 0 2 2
1996–97 0 1 1
1997–98 0 0 0
1998–99 1 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 1
2000–01 0 1 1
2001–02 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0
2005–06 1 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0
2010–11 1 0 1
Total 8 10 18

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

Sex

A closer examination of the long-term trends (see Table 41) has shown that the number of deaths in juvenile justice custody involving males (94%; n=17) has far exceeded the number of deaths involving females (6%; n=1).

Since 1979–80, almost all Indigenous juvenile deaths in custody were of males (88%; n=7), with only one female Indigenous juvenile death occurring over this period (13%; n=1).

Table 41 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by sex and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Male Female Total n
1979–80 0 1 1
1980–81 1 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0
1983–84 1 0 1
1984–85 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 1
1987–88 2 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0
1989–90 1 0 1
1990–91 1 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0
1993–94 2 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0
1995–96 2 0 2
1996–97 1 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0
1998–99 1 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 1
2000–01 1 0 1
2001–02 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0
2005–06 1 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0
2010–11 1 0 1
Total 17 1 18

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

Age

By age, the majority of deaths in juvenile justice custody were of children aged either 16 or 17 years (67%; n=12; see Table 42). In general, the number of deaths involving a juvenile has remained steady, with the overall number of deaths not rising higher than two deaths in a year. Also of interest is the fact that there have not been any deaths in juvenile justice custody involving persons aged 16 years or less since 2000–01.

Since 1979–80, juveniles who died in detention were in the following age categories:

  • 14 years (6%; n=1);
  • 15 years (6%; n=1);
  • 16 years (33%; n=6);
  • 17 years (33%; n=6);
  • 18 years (11%; n=2); and
  • 19 years (11%; n=2).
Table 42 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by age and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
14 yrs 15 yrs 16 yrs 17 yrs 18 yrs 19 yrs Total n
1979–80 1 0 0 0 0 0 1
1980–81 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1983–84 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
1984–85 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1986–87 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
1987–88 0 0 1 1 0 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1989–90 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
1990–91 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1993–94 0 0 1 0 1 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1995–96 0 0 1 1 0 0 2
1996–97 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
1998–99 0 0 1 0 0 0 1
1999–2000 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
2000–01 0 0 0 0 0 1 1
2001–02 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2005–06 0 0 0 1 0 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Total 1 1 6 6 2 2 18

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

Circumstances surrounding death

Cause of death

Deaths in juvenile justice custody have been primarily due to hanging (61%; n=11) over the last 32 years (see Table 43), with deaths resulting from a natural cause (22%; n=4) the second most common cause, followed by other/multiple trauma (11%; n=2) and head injury (6%; n=1). All of the hanging deaths occurred between 1986–87 and 1999–2000. Due to the small number of deaths involved, no other discernible change or pattern can be identified.

Table 43 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by cause of death and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Hanging Natural causes Head injury Drugs Other/multiple trauma Total
1979–80 0 0 0 0 1 1
1980–81 0 1 0 0 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0 0 0
1983–84 0 1 0 0 0 1
1984–85 0 0 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 0 0 0 1
1987–88 2 0 0 0 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0 0 0 0
1989–90 1 0 0 0 0 1
1990–91 1 0 0 0 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0 0 0
1993–94 2 0 0 0 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0 0 0
1995–96 1 0 0 0 1 2
1996–97 1 0 0 0 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0 0 0
1998–99 1 0 0 0 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 0 0 0 1
2000–01 0 1 0 0 0 1
2001–02 0 0 0 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0 0 0
2005–06 0 1 0 0 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 1 0 0 1
Total 11 4 1 0 2 18

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

Since 1979–80, half of the deaths of Indigenous juvenile detainees have been due to hanging (50%; n=40), with a further 26 percent being caused by other/multiple trauma or head injuries (n=2; see Figure 20). For deaths of non-Indigenous juvenile detainees, hanging was also the most prevalent cause of death (70%; n=7).

Figure 20 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by cause of death and Indigenous status, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (%)

Among the total number of hanging deaths recorded in juvenile justice custody since 1979–80, the use of ‘other cell fittings’ within the detainee’s cell (such as door handles or vents in the ceiling) has been the most commonly used hanging point (60%; n=6; see Table 44). This result was not unexpected, as the use of ‘other cell fittings’ was also the most commonly used hanging point among adults in prison custody. The second most common hanging point was the detainee’s cell bars (20%; n=2), followed by shower fixtures (10%; n=1) or the bunk bed (10%; n=1). Again, similar to the adult deaths in prison, the most commonly used material in the hanging death were bed sheets (70%; n=7) or other pieces of clothing (30%; n=3; see Table 45).

Table 44 Hanging deaths in juvenile justice custody by hanging point and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Cell bars Shower fixture Other cell fitting Bunk bed Total
1979–80 0 0 0 0 0
1980–81 0 0 0 0 0
1981–82 0 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0 0
1983–84 0 0 0 0 0
1984–85 0 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 0 0 1
1987–88 0 0 1 0 1
1988–89 0 0 0 0 0
1989–90 0 0 1 0 1
1990–91 0 0 1 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0 0
1993–94 0 1 1 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0 0
1995–96 1 0 0 0 1
1996–97 0 0 1 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0 0
1998–99 0 0 1 0 1
1999–2000 0 0 0 1 1
2000–01 0 0 0 0 0
2001–02 0 0 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0 0
2005–06 0 0 0 0 0
2006–07 0 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 0 0 0
Totala 2 1 6 1 10

a: 1 case has been excluded due to missing information about the hanging point

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

Table 45 Hanging deaths in juvenile justice custody by material used and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Sheets Other clothing Total n
1979–80 0 0 0
1980–81 0 0 0
1981–82 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0
1983–84 0 0 0
1984–85 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 1
1987–88 1 0 1
1988–89 0 0 0
1989–90 0 1 1
1990–91 0 1 1
1991–92 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0
1993–94 1 1 2
1994–95 0 0 0
1995–96 1 0 1
1996–97 1 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0
1998–99 1 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 1
2000–01 0 0 0
2001–02 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0
2005–06 0 0 0
2006–07 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 0
Totala 7 3 10

a: 1 case has been excluded due to missing information about the material used

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

Manner of death

From analysis of the data collected since 1979–80, the majority of deaths in juvenile justice custody were self-inflicted (61%; n=11; see Table 46 and Figure 21). This was followed by natural cause deaths (22%; n=4) and accidental deaths (17%; n=3). The majority of the self-inflicted deaths occurred between 1987–88 and 1999–2000.

It is important to note that 11 of the 18 juvenile custody deaths since 1979–80 have been self-inflicted and while there have been relatively few deaths in recent years, this finding nevertheless warrants ongoing monitoring. In particular, an analysis of the circumstances surrounding these self-inflicted deaths may help to better identify intervention prevention strategies that could further limit deaths in juvenile justice custody. For example, research from the United States, conducted by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, found that of the 110 suicides examined, 100 percent had occurred within the first four months of incarceration; of these, 40 percent occurred within the first 72 hours (Hayes 2009). Similarly, research in the United Kingdom has shown that approximately 50 percent of suicide-related incidents occurred within the first month of incarceration (Shaw & Turnbull 2009).

Figure 21 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by manner of death and Indigenous status, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (%)

Table 46 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by manner of death and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Self–inflicted Natural causes Accident Total
1979–80 0 0 1 1
1980–81 0 1 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0
1983–84 0 1 0 1
1984–85 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0
1986–87 1 0 0 1
1987–88 2 0 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0 0
1989–90 1 0 0 1
1990–91 1 0 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0
1993–94 2 0 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0
1995–96 1 0 1 2
1996–97 1 0 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0
1998–99 1 0 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 0 1
2000–01 0 1 0 1
2001–02 0 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0
2005–06 0 1 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 1 1
Total 11 4 3 18

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

Most serious offence

Table 47 shows that half (50%; n=9) of the juveniles who died in custody were detained due to a theft-related offence. This was followed by ‘other’ offences (17%; n=3), while violent, good order and drug-related offences (11%; n=2) were equally frequent.

Indigenous juveniles who died in custody were more likely to be detained for a theft-related (38%; n=3) or ‘other’ offence (38%; n=3) than any other type of offending, whereas non-Indigenous juveniles who died were more likely to have committed theft-related (60%; n=6), followed by violent (20%, n=2) or drug-related offences (20%; n=2; see Figure 22).

Figure 22 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by most serious offence and Indigenous status, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (%)

Table 47 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by most serious offence and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Violent Theft-related Good order Drug-related Other Total n
1979–80 0 0 0 0 1 1
1980–81 0 0 1 0 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0 0 0
1983–84 1 0 0 0 0 1
1984–85 0 0 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0 0 0
1986–87 0 1 0 0 0 1
1987–88 0 2 0 0 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0 0 0 0
1989–90 0 1 0 0 0 1
1990–91 0 1 0 0 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0 0 0
1993–94 0 2 0 0 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0 0 0
1995–96 0 1 0 1 0 2
1996–97 1 0 0 0 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0 0 0
1998–99 0 0 0 0 1 1
1999–2000 0 1 0 0 0 1
2000–01 0 0 0 0 0 0
2001–02 0 0 0 1 0 1
2002–03 0 0 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0 0 0
2005–06 0 0 1 0 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 0 0 0 1 1
Total 2 9 2 2 3 18

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

Location of death

More than half (61%; n=11) of all deaths in juvenile justice custody over the past 32 years occurred in a cell in a detention centre (see Table 48). This was followed by deaths in a public hospital (28%; n=5), ‘other’ locations (6%; n=1) and public places (6%; n=1). Deaths in an ‘other’ location include those who died during transit, in court cells, or in an ambulance en route to the hospital.

Table 48 Deaths in juvenile justice custody by location of death and year, 1979–80 to 2010–11 (n)
Public hospital Cell Public place Other Total n
1979–80 0 1 0 0 1
1980–81 1 0 0 0 1
1981–82 0 0 0 0 0
1982–83 0 0 0 0 0
1983–84 0 0 0 1 1
1984–85 0 0 0 0 0
1985–86 0 0 0 0 0
1986–87 0 1 0 0 1
1987–88 0 2 0 0 2
1988–89 0 0 0 0 0
1989–90 0 1 0 0 1
1990–91 0 1 0 0 1
1991–92 0 0 0 0 0
1992–93 0 0 0 0 0
1993–94 0 2 0 0 2
1994–95 0 0 0 0 0
1995–96 0 1 1 0 2
1996–97 1 0 0 0 1
1997–98 0 0 0 0 0
1998–99 0 1 0 0 1
1999–2000 1 0 0 0 1
2000–01 1 0 0 0 1
2001–02 0 0 0 0 0
2002–03 0 0 0 0 0
2003–04 0 0 0 0 0
2004–05 0 0 0 0 0
2005–06 1 0 0 0 1
2006–07 0 0 0 0 0
2007–08 0 0 0 0 0
2008–09 0 0 0 0 0
2009–10 0 0 0 0 0
2010–11 0 1 0 0 1
Total 5 11 1 1 18

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

Summary of deaths in juvenile detention

There have been 18 deaths of juveniles in the custody of a juvenile justice agency since 1979–80; 10 being non-Indigenous young people. The majority of deaths were of males (94%; n=17) and more than half of all deaths were due to hanging (61%; n=11); however, the last hanging death was recorded in 1999–2000. Juveniles hanging themselves were more likely to use other fittings in the cell (55%; n=6) or their cell bars (18%; n=2) than any other hanging point, with bed sheets the most likely material to be used (64%; n=7). These findings are consistent with those seen in adult prison custody.

Both Indigenous (38%; n=3) and non-Indigenous juveniles (60%; n=6) were more likely to have been detained for a theft-related offence prior to death than any other type of offence. Similar to deaths in adult prisons, more deaths occurred in a detention centre cell than all other locations (61%; n=11).