New deaths in custody report released

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has released the latest statistical report from the National Deaths in Custody Program (NDICP), Deaths in custody in Australia 2020–21.

Deputy Director of the AIC, Dr Rick Brown said the AIC releases the program reports annually, however this report produces more timely statistics than in previous years, with the publication coming just five months after the end of the reporting period, rather than the usual 18 months.

“Our agency recognises that applied criminological research should inform policy, practice and the wider community debate on issues of concern, and so we have liaised with all of government to ensure we provide the most accurate information as timely as possible,” Dr Brown said.

“We have coordinated the NDICP since its establishment in 1992, reporting on the number of deaths in custody in Australia, and the patterns and trends observed in those deaths,” he said.

In the 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the NDICP has recorded 489 Indigenous deaths in custody, including 320 in prison, 165 in police custody or custody-related operations and 4 in youth detention.

In 2020–21 there were 82 deaths in custody, 31 fewer than in 2019–20. The total included 15 Indigenous deaths and 67 non-Indigenous deaths.

In this period 66 of those deaths were in prison custody, 12 of these were of Indigenous people. Of the deaths for which manner of death was known, natural causes were the most common.

The other 16 deaths were in police custody. Three of these were of Indigenous people, and 13 were of non-Indigenous people.

The AIC has also recently established the National Deaths in Custody Program Steering Group to provide advice on matters associated with ongoing program implementation. Members of the steering group include data providers from police and correctional authorities in each state and territory, the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

A new Indigenous Justice Research Program has also been established by AIC, the NIAA, and the Indigenous Justice Clearinghouse. This innovative program aims to build a body of evidence to inform improvements to criminal justice polices and responses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals interacting with the justice system.

“If you are interested in conducting a research project that relates to criminal justice issues for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, I encourage you to apply to our Indigenous Justice Research Program.

“The approach to market has been extended and applications are now welcome until 7 December,” Dr Brown said.

To read the Deaths in custody in Australia 2020–21 Statistical Report visit

For statistics and data from the long-term monitoring of deaths in custody visit

The Indigenous Justice Research Program Approach to Market is available at until 7 December 2021.


Background notes

The NDICP is compiled from 2 main data sources:

  • NDICP data collection forms completed by all state and territory police services and correctional departments in Australia
  • coronial records, including transcripts of proceedings and findings, as well as toxicology and post-mortem reports.

The information presented in the report is quantitative and intended to provide an overview of statistical trends and patterns. It does not provide information on individual cases, or information of a more qualitative nature.

The information in the quarterly dashboard may not have the outcomes and reporting from coronial investigations finalised. As such, details may change once coronial investigations are finalised, and will be available in the annual NDICP report.